Recurring Themes, Part Three: The Paradox of Exposure

January 07th, 2007 | Category: Essays

I read somewhere a long time ago that most people die within a couple of miles of their homes.

A few months ago, I helped a friend do some work on his new house. We were painting, and hanging gutters, so we were up on ladders for much of the day. Now, my friend does this kind of work for a living, so he’s on a ladder quite often. I can’t remember the last time I was on a ladder. That day, I was probably more likely to fall and injure myself since I was the least experienced on a ladder, but on any other day, he’s more likely to fall from a ladder and get hurt (because I’m less likely to be on a ladder at all).

In rock climbing, the term exposure refers to the distance — typically a long one — that the climber could fall. I’m using the term here to refer to a similar, but broader concept: exposure to possibly hazardous experience. Where activities are dangerous, practice makes perfect, but practice also increases one’s exposure to potential harm. I skateboard, and the more I skateboard, the better I get (i.e., the less likely I am to fall). Conversely, the more I skateboard, the more likely I am to fall (i.e., “practice makes perfect,” but practice itself is dangerous). Let me illustrate with another, very different example.

I have friends who don’t allow their children to watch television. Sure, they occasionally rent movies, or educational videos, but the TV is not the fixture in their home that it is in most American homes. Sounds commendable enough, right? And it probably is, but if you see unexposed kids in a house where the television is on all day, you’d think they were in the presence of the all-mighty. It affects them in such an extreme manner because they’re not regularly exposed to it. Is that good? I don’t know. As much as has been written about it, we don’t yet know how or how much growing up with TV has affected and is affecting us, but witnessing children who are unexposed watching TV is a sobering sight.

These examples have had me thinking hard about this paradox of exposure. It seems to be evident in most any situation where the impact of the experience could be negative. I don’t have a car, so when I do drive one, I’m more likely to crash than those who drive everyday, but everyday, I’m less likely to be in a car accident because I do not drive. It’s everywhere!

So, why do most people die so close to home? Because that’s where we spend most of our time, that’s where we are most exposed.

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