Have We Become a Nation of Scaredy-Cats?

When seeking safety becomes absurdity

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One of my friends said we’ve become a nation of scaredy-cats. I wonder if he’s right. Have we gotten so fearful about perceived dangers that we’ve crossed a threshold from common sense to absurdity?

The new California coffee regulations are a perfect example. A superior court judge ruled that California law requires coffee companies to carry a cancer warning label because of a chemical which is a by-product of the roasting process.

The problem is, coffee doesnt cause cancer. Studies show just the opposite; coffee might even keep you from getting it. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, coffee may boost your health by reducing your risk of several types of cancer, heart disease and early death.

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The coffee law is an example of taking a good thing, like building awareness about possible carcinogens, and going too far. Now when you’re in California enjoying a morning cup of java you’ll have an ominous warning label staring you in the face.

Another good thing we’ve taken too far is the issue of safety.

When I was in Europe I noticed bicyclists didn’t wear bike helmets, whereas over here we strap head gear on toddlers pedaling tricycles down the sidewalk. I mention this as an interesting observation, but I’m not going to use baby bike helmets as an example of taking safety too far because I’m certain somebody somewhere has researched the statistics and discovered toddler helmets to be a major factor in the prevention of head injuries.

Far be it from me to come down on the side of head injuries, although I do find myself asking how I survived childhood when my siblings and I raced headlong and helmet-less on bikes, skates, scooters and go carts.

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What I will use as an example of taking things too far is the child safety seat. Those things have become entirely too complicated.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for child safety seats, even though my siblings and I ricocheted untethered around the back of a station wagon. But just because we survived doesn’t mean riding unstrapped is a good thing. Confining children to car safety seats is a great advancement and I wouldn’t think of transporting my grandkids any other way.

But I discovered we’ve taken things too far when I bought a seat and read the SAFETY INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS.

Installing a child’s car seat isn’t rocket science, after all.

Or is it?

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My new seat came with a four-page pamphlet of instructions that included car parts I’m unfamiliar with and a level of complexity that could intimidate an engineer with a doctorate degree. In addition to the technical challenges, installation called for acrobatics that would tax the flexibility of a contortionist.

Read instruction #5 in the pamphlet, if you don’t believe me:

5. “Know that installing a car seat will take a bit of brute force, so try to put as much of your weight as possible on the seat as you install it. For rear-facing convertibles, try leaning your stomach on the back of the seat; for forward-facing, put both of your knees on the seat and then secure it. With your weight on the seat, wiggle the seat down into the cushion. Many installations are easier when done with two people.”

The instructions ended with a recommendation that a professional check the completed installation.

Since when did child safety seat installation require the same level of professionalism you would require from your electrician? Maybe I’m wrong about this and ensuring a child’s safety mandates this level of complexity, but it seems to be a shift toward overkill.

There must be some level at which safety is compromised by the fact that you’re tempted to throw the whole seat out and just buckle the kid up.

I can’t resist giving you one more example of safety obsessions run amok before concluding this discussion.

We can all agree that leaving a child alone in a parked car is a terrible and dangerous thing to do. That’s why I panicked when it happened at a store I managed. A woman flew into the store screaming at our security guard, “There’s a child left alone in a car while his mother shops in the store!”

The security guard and I dashed outside to rescue the “child,” who happened to be a 16-year-old boy sitting with the car door open, tapping his size 12 tennis-shoe clad foot to the beat of whatever music he was listening to through his earphones.

This incident crossed the threshold from reasonable behavior to absurdity. Have we veered so far toward an obsession with safety that we’ve abandoned the moderating influences of common sense?

We worry so much about cancer that we slap warning labels on coffee. We believe a child safety seat should be an impregnable fortress able to withstand a hurricane instead of providing a safer means of transporting a child to the grocery store. We see danger and threats where none exist and ignore the real things, like school violence and drug overdoses, that threaten our safety. We’ve become a nation of scaredy-cats who are scared of the wrong things.

Maybe I’ll examine the seriousness of our nation’s misplaced fears in a later post, but right now I’m going to enjoy a cancer-inhibiting latte, swing by Walmart to pick up some toddler safety helmets and stop at the fire station to have my child safety seat properly installed.

Written by

Writer, editor, publisher, journalist, author, columnist, believer in enjoying my journey and helping other people enjoy theirs. bknicholson@att.net

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