Monday, October 22, 2012

The 1% fallacy

There are many things to criticize my parents for. They are quarrelsome, stubborn and self-absorbed. But they share a remarkable quality that, alas, I did not inherit: optimism. 

If they see me worrying, my mom will say, “Oh, you’ll be fine” or “Don’t be silly. I’ll be fine.” My dad will wave away my concerns like dust in a mote. 

My mom refuses to use her walker with the same degree of conviction as that of the doctor who insisted she must never budge without it. My dad won’t take a cab if there’s a bus that will get him there, although he often can’t find a seat and he has a little problem with vertigo. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die of stress watching them blindly lurch around, evading catastrophe after catastrophe by no more than a hair. They’re like Mr. and Mrs. Magoo.

And the thing is, 99% of the time they’re right. Most things do turn out just fine. And even if they don’t, it often doesn’t matter. 

My parents focus on that 99%. I focus on the 1%. It’s illogical, but I reason that if I worry about something, it won’t happen or I’ll be more prepared if it does. So I do a lot of prophylactic worrying. The problem is, prophylactic worrying doesn’t work. Bad shit happens even if you foresee it and worry it to death.

So I don’t want to raise my children the way my parents raised me or treat my friends the way they treated theirs. But in this one respect—relentless, irrational optimism—I’d like to be just like my parents.

1 comment:

Robin Amos Kahn said...

I agree with your parents...but sometimes I feel like you do. That's when I go for a long walk, or a bike ride, or meditate, and I should do more yoga! I bet that helps you.