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It’s Better to Calibrate Your Level of COVID Risk to Others, Not Yourself

·847 words·4 mins

I’ve found myself wondering a lot lately how so many people can be comfortable taking needless risks in the face of COVID-19. One study I’ve covered found a link between sociopathy and mask shunning. (Yeah, kind of a sensational premise maybe but if the shoe fits…)

But you have to be careful about painting people all with the same brush. I had another possibility come and find me lately. It was spurred on by a random video I stumbled onto and watched the other day.

In this aptly titled video  “ We Feared Susan’s Covid Would Kill Her. Your Risks Could Hurt Those You Love Most,”  Rachel Maddow says the following:

Whatever you have calculated into your life as acceptable risk, as…inevitable risk…something that you’re willing to go through in terms of this virus because statistically, hey, probably it will be fine for you and your loved ones, I’m just here to tell you to recalibrate that. Frankly, the country needs you to recalibrate that because broadly speaking there’s no room for you in the hospital anymore.

In the speech, Maddow advises that the risks you take surrounding COVID don’t just affect you, they also affect your loved ones. And so you need to be thinking of what you’d be willing to _subject _them to. You should think less about risking your own illness and death — and more about risking the illness and death of your loved ones. Because it may very well come to that.

People Get More Anxious When Others Take Risks Than When They Take Those Same Risks

And Maddow’s call to action here frankly reminded me of a phenomenon that I covered a while back in a series called Psyched for the Weekend, called “ People Get More Anxious When Others Take Risks Than When They Do So Themselves.” Here’s the bottom line of the study covered in that article:

A recent study looked into the anxiety surrounding people’s risk-taking behavior versus their anxiety surrounding other people taking risks via the same behavior. In an initial study and several followup replications, a reliable pattern held:

People were made considerably more anxious when others took risks than when they themselves took the same risks. One study even demonstrated that this pattern held when a person and their partner were engaging in the same risky behavior *together *— they *still *worried more about their partner than about themselves. They also in general were less likely to want their partner to engage in those risky behaviors than for them to do it themselves.

Interestingly, they also predicted more serious possible consequences of the risk for their partners than they did when asked that question about themselves (possibly accounting for the difference in anxiety levels).

It’s also worth noting that the researchers also found that this effect wasn’t simply limited to significant others. They studied people participants were close to, somewhat close to, and also somewhat distant and found increased anxiety relative to their own risk-tasking in all cases, although the closer the person was to participants, the more anxious they became at that person’s risk-taking behavior.

I’ve Noted This in Tendency in Others

Perhaps Maddow’s call to think of other people close to you is a good check, given all of this. Because honestly, when you take risks with others you are in close contact with — THEY HAVE EFFECTIVELY TAKEN THOSE RISKS AS WELL (whether they knew or consented to it).

And I can think of a very clear example of this risk-taking double standard… my mother actually. She’s been taking lots of exposure risks that I would never dream of.

And yet, when I describe my life and my patterns, her response is always, “Good. You stay safe.”

She’s definitely a case of someone who is willing to take lots of risks herself, but when it comes to other people… she doesn’t want them to.

In the case of my mother, we live 2000 miles apart (and aren’t particularly close), so while her decisions don’t directly affect me, we are all part of the same country, in which healthcare workers are taxed to the max (and it’s only going to get grimmer over the next few weeks, a reality that makes me want to actually snarl and break things because I get so angry that they have to go through this).

Anyway, it’s a good reframe. We shouldn’t be taking bigger risks than we’d want our vulnerable loved ones to take.

Although the reality is… no matter how impassioned a plea is, even coming from a prominent figure like Maddow, I worry that people already have their minds made up. Whether they’re going to take as many precautions as they can. Or whether they’re going to take a carpe diem, que sera sera approach (whatever it does to healthcare workers or immunocompromised folks). Or whether they’re even going to be creepy bug chasers and throw COVID parties (a sad reality).

Maybe I’m being pessimistic here. I’d LOVE to be wrong about that.

Anyway, please stay safe, people. Recalibrate (if applicable).



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