Saturday 20 April 2019

Live dangerously: it's so much safer

We should stop fretting over potential disasters that are unlikely to happen, says a new book. Lisa Jewell reports

A tightrope walker, wearing a yellow jersey, performs, on July 27, 2008, during the 143 km twenty-first and last stage of the 2008 Tour de France. Photo: Patrick Hertzog, Getty Images
A tightrope walker, wearing a yellow jersey, performs, on July 27, 2008, during the 143 km twenty-first and last stage of the 2008 Tour de France. Photo: Patrick Hertzog, Getty Images

Lisa Jewell

Author Warwick Cairns enjoys an element of risk in his life and likes to skateboard and mountain bike. So you might expect that his book called How to Live Dangerously advocates taking up sky diving or swimming in shark cages.

But this isn't the case. In fact, his message is that there are plenty of everyday activities we should all be enjoying without worrying about risks to our safety.

"Research consistently shows that people nowadays believe the world to be a far more dangerous place than it was in the past, but it actually isn't -- it's just that we perceive it to be a more dangerous place," says Cairns.

"We really are scared about things that don't pose that much threat to us. We all remember the big fuss about bird flu a few years ago and how that was going to be dangerous for us. That never came to pass.

"There is a rational side and an emotional side to fear and at the moment, we're sort of at the mercy of our emotions."

Cairns says it's understandable how people feel this anxiety when they are constantly being given information about things like terrorism and child abduction.

"If a child is abducted nowadays, it's still a rare occurrence but we hear about it a lot. If someone hears about a story such as Madeleine McCann 11 or 12 times in a day, then they feel like it's happened 11 or 12 times that day.

"The reality of the situation and the perception are at odds with each other."

Rather than blaming people for feeling this fear, Cairns says he wants them to become aware of the reasons behind it and understand the real risks involved in events.

"If you can understand what's going on, you can put your fears into perspective and try not to become anxious over something that's very unlikely to happen."

In the book, Cairns points out that people don't actually get worked up about the diseases they should be worried about.

"I'm still waiting for the panic caused by the fact that a third of us -- yes, one in every three -- will die from heart disease," writes Cairns.

"It just doesn't strike us as a particularly horrid, strange, wicked or unfair one."

Cairns, who lives in the UK, is particularly passionate about the way that we're mollycoddling our children -- he pointedly calls that chapter, 'Raising children in captivity'.

"I have two daughters -- aged 10 and 14 -- and I'm aware that they don't have a fraction of the freedom that I used to have growing up," he says. "Things have dramatically changed since the days when we used to be able to walk to school or kids could call at the door to ask if their pal could come out and play.

"I worry about this new generation of children and whether they have any spontaneity or joy in life.

"We keep children indoors more because we're scared of the risks outside but we're actually shortening their lives because they're sitting in front of the telly and not getting enough exercise."

Cairns is happy to poke fun at the powers-that-be who decide what's best for us.

"I don't have a great respect for them," he says.

"They have this fear of being sued but there's also the temptation of power; that they have to prove their worth by introducing rule after rule. That's how councils end up cutting down trees so kids can't take conkers off them. I played conkers as a child and I don't know anyone who got an eye injury. It's just daft."

How to Live Dangerously: Why We Should All Stop Worrying and Start Living is published by Pan MacMillan (€15.15).

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