Just in case there’s a butterfly


In many cultures, the butterfly is considered to be a symbol of life, endurance, and hope. Christians often view this beautiful winged insect as representing the profound change that comes with salvation, or the emergence from the cocoon as analogous to resurrection. 

On the other hand, they say dreaming about a butterfly cocoon may indicate that you feel isolated and entrapped, encapsulated and unable to escape. Certainly many of us having been having those feelings – if not the dreams – during the time we’ve been living under the ongoing “stay at home” orders. 

The flu has killed tens of thousands of people every year of your life. Other people catch it and barely have symptoms – just a few aches or sore throat.

Be honest now. Have you ever gone to the store or to work or out to eat when you were feeling a little under the weather? Did you wear a mask then? Did you give even one passing thought to the idea that you might have something contagious and might give it to the little old lady next to you in the check-out line or your friend at the office who has a kid with a compromised immune system?

We all know drunk drivers kill people. But so do drivers who are sick with a cold or headache, or at less than peak performance from lack of sleep the night before, or are emotionally upset over something going on in their lives, or are distracted by their kids in the backseat, food they’re eating in the car, or the music they’re playing.

Have you EVER driven a car in one of those conditions? Have you ever exceeded the speed limit? Looked away from the road at something you were going past? Made a sudden lane change or turn in response to your GPS or a sign? If so, you have put others’ lives in danger.

Iatragenic illnesses and deaths from medical malpractice/medical error kill as many as 250,000 people per year, especially the elderly. Have you ever pushed your older family member to go to the doctor for a minor problem? If so, you put their lives at risk.

My point is not that you should start quarantining yourself at every tiny sniffle or sneeze, or that you shouldn’t ever drive a car again, or that you shouldn’t ever take your loved one to a doctor. My point is that one of the unfortunate aspects of life is that we do inadvertently and unintentionally do things all the time that COULD possibly lead to the death of another person. This cannot be eliminated.

Risk, risk taker, sacrifice, jump, opportunity - free image from ...

Even if you choose to stay sequestered in your home forever, that means you’ll need someone else to deliver your groceries. In the process of doing that, s/he might get hit by a truck, or get bitten by a rabid squirrel while walking up to your door with your order, or be caught out in a deadly storm, or any other myriad of bad things to which s/he wouldn’t have been exposed if not for bringing you your food.

The Butterfly Effect is the idea that small causes can have large effects – that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly hundreds or thousands of miles away can influence the formation and path of a tornado several weeks later. It’s a concept that’s part of chaos theory, which states that apparently random states of disorder and irregularities are often governed by deterministic laws that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. Or more simply, for those who have watched Manifest, “It’s all connected.”

Butterfly Effect Wave Follow - Free image on Pixabay

Yes, our actions and choices and decisions do affect other people. Sometimes a particular outcome is almost inevitable. Other times it’s completely unpredictable. And most of the time, it’s a known possibility with a low or high probability.

So then it becomes a matter of studying the statistics and playing the odds. If the probability is high and the outcome is severe, we need to avoid the behavior. If the probability is low and the most likely outcome is mild, the benefits of the behavior may be greater than the potential benefit of avoiding it.

The odds of infecting someone with COVID-19 if you have no symptoms or known exposure to the disease are low. The odds that the particular random person you infect will die from it are even lower.

The other consideration in assessing the risk of taking a specific action is what the unintended consequences are likely to be. In attempting to save lives that might be lost to COVID-19, do the lockdowns inadvertently cause the loss of other lives – to suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, stress-related illnesses, non-COVID conditions that go undiagnosed and untreated, and so forth?

Early in this, I heard the response of governments to the virus described as akin to burning down your house to kill a wasp that got inside. Yes, you’ll accomplish your objective: getting rid of the wasp – but at what cost?

Corona Risk Infection - Free image on Pixabay

We can’t live our lives in fear of the hypothetical consequences of every action we take (or don’t). While the reluctance to take personal responsibility for what we do is a problem, so is taking personal responsibility to the extreme. You are not “killing grandmas” left and right by going out to dinner or getting your hair done.

You are not obligated to stop doing anything, ever, that could possibly put someone, somewhere, at risk. You’re only morally obligated to take REASONABLE precautions (don’t go breathe in grandma’s face after you go out; don’t drive when you know you’re groggy or mentally unfocused; cover your mouth and nose if you’re sneezing; stay home if you know you’re sick).

In the Huffington Post, of all places, I found this excellent summation by Joe Robinson:
“It’s one of the great, or maybe not so great, paradoxes of the human condition. In your brain every day the forces of fear and safety are hard at work trying to keep you in your bunker and squelch your craving for novelty, self-determination and freedom, otherwise known as progress.”

In this current situation, those who are gripped by fear and obsessed with safety are trying to do just that: keep us all in our bunkers, take away our self-determination and freedom, and prevent any progress in reopening our world and economy and restoring sanity and normalcy to our lives. 

We’ve all heard that we live in a “just in time” world now. It seems we’re also heading toward being a “just in case” society. We’ll lock everybody down just in case they have the virus. We’ll ban you from having guns just in case you might go on a shooting spree. We’ll not allow kids to ride bikes or play outside or walk to school just in case they might get injured or kidnapped. We’ll outlaw all sorts of harmless behaviors just in case they might lead to other, harmful ones.

We’ve taken “preventative medicine” and “proactive law enforcement” too far. We shut down the world “just in case” this virus was a Chinese bioweapon or Stephen King’s superflu. Now that we know that it’s neither, can we please end the nonsense — just in case we’re doing a whole lot more harm than good?

Fear Fearless Without - Free image on Pixabay


About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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