Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Smarty Pants: Blame the Pigs

Like most people, I first heard of the Swine Flu yesterday morning when I got up. It was pretty hard to miss since it was a headline on every major broadcast channel and littered throughout the papers. I suppose this only makes sense since over 150 people have died from it in Mexico and it seems to spread very easily from human to human.

I Won't Get Carried Away
Now it is not in my nature to get carried away with these types of reports. And certainly this small outbreak seems pretty mild: no one in the US has died, and symptoms have not been too severe. And the media loves to make a big deal out of possible pandemics, because let's face it: they make for compelling news. But based on what we know so far, quarantines and runs on the hospital aren't likely.

A Common Trend
But given this recent news, I would like to point out one trend that commonly surfaces when there are potential threats to our health and safety. And that trend is a rising tension between paranoia and preparation/prevention.

Certainly when people feel threatened, their reactions fall somewhere along a continuum of panic on one end and apathy on the other. And eventually a debate arises about which end of the spectrum is most appropriate. For instance, inevitably some people, upon hearing the news of a possible pandemic, will purchase and start to wear blue medical masks. Others will stock up their pantry, or pull their kids out of school. But as soon as even the first person pops up with a face mask, someone else will accuse them of being paranoid, and suggest that their actions only exacerbate the issue and heighten the threat. This second person will favor going about their daily routine as normal, advocating for others to do the same.

Heated Public Debate
Of course most of us would probably agree that falling somewhere in the middle--between paranoia and preparation/prevention--is the wise choice. But that rarely stops the public debate from getting heated anyway. Because when people feel threatened, they get fairly passionate about the best ways to protect themselves. And likewise, if they feel that the choices of others are increasing the threat, their passion escalates.

Now, I'm not saying that we'll have much of this heated debate during the Swine Flu, mainly because it seems to be a fairly mild threat at this point. But one of my main goals in writing this Smarty Pants column is to point out trends and themes from specific headlines that can be applied more generally across the news. And this tension between paranoia and preparation/prevention in the face of a regional or national threat is certainly a theme we'll see occur again and again.

Stick Around!
So, what should our response be during a threat? Where along the spectrum should we fall? I don't have a perfect answer (mainly because there isn't one), but I am an advocate of preparation. So join me later today when I talk more about emergency preparation as one of a Recessionista's home grown solutions!

Other Recent Smarty Pants Posts:
Avoiding Pitfalls
Is Staying Home in a Recession Foolish?
Jobs vs. Livelihoods

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