Insurance Academy

Caution is based in knowledge, fear is based in suspicion

By | March 11, 2020

I’ve been wrestling over what to write here for the last several days. Here is a list of different articles that I ultimately rejected for several different reasons.

  • Why losses related to COVID-19 is not covered on (you pick) policies.
  • COVID-19 and headlines – written for clickin’
  • COVID-19. Can we just not today?

In the end, I decided that I just couldn’t write another article about this virus. Although, I suppose that a well written article with a clicky headline could go, well, viral. Sorry. Last virus pun for now.

After spending several days wondering what to write on and getting some perspective on the current virus situation, I have something that’s only tangentially related.

I may be wrong, but I believe that people fear things that feel like they are out of their control. Some of that is born deep within us because the ability to control the environment creates safety and safety preserves life. Add to that our brains’ general disposition not to expend anymore calories than is necessary to survive and what you end up with the most popular exercise in the world, jumping to conclusions.

Let me illustrate with some real conversations that I’ve had over the last few weeks.

  • COVID-19 originated in China. I wonder if I can safely eat at my local Chinese restaurant. (Of course eating at your local Chinese restaurant is safe. The people that run it probably haven’t lived in China for a decade and the food probably comes from SYSCO.)
  • There is a global shortage of face masks because people are using them to protect themselves from COVID-19. (You know that the face masks only protect you from breathing in the particles that might come from someone who coughs or sneezes in your face and mostly protects the rest of us from whatever might spew from you.)

What appears to be happening is that there is a mix of truth and fantasy being reported by different websites and even when the truth is being reported, the headlines that people write are often slanted to make you click. They do that by playing on our emotions (fear, anger, distrust, etc.). Add to that our tendency to want to believe what confirms what we already believe and our minds’ natural laziness and what you get is worry, fear, and a general depression sinking in. That, and the stock markets become a giant roller coaster ride for a while.

Caution is based in knowledge and fear is based in suspicion.

Yes. You should be cautious about the virus, as you should any virus. No sane person wants to get sick. I’ve never thought to myself that I could use a good touch of the flu so that I could rest for a couple of days. The two days in bed aren’t worth the misery attached to them.

We should be cautious because it’s a virus that can make you sick. Really sick. Just like the flu can make you really sick. I’m all for taking the normal precautions that we all learned in school. When you touch something icky, wash your hands, or better yet don’t touch icky things. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose, then go wash your hands. When you get ready to eat, wash your hands. If you get your hands dirty, wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home. If you think you’re sick, stay home.

Most of all, relax. Be cautious but understand the truth behind the numbers that we read. I found some statistics on the site worldometers.info that are really interesting.

  • Total cases worldwide: 121,738 (that means that 0.0017% of the world’s population are current infected
  • Total deaths worldwide: 4,382 (3.6% of those who contract the virus)
  • The US has the eighth most number of cases worldwide (1,016), but if you consider the number of cases per million people in the county, the US is number 41 at 3.1 cases/million people.

If you know that you’re already prone to get sick, stay away from big groups of people and don’t go where the sick people are. Sure, pay attention to where the newest cases are, but compare those to where you normally go. Just because a worker at an Atlanta area Waffle House went to work with the virus doesn’t mean that I can’t go to my local Waffle House, which doesn’t sound like a bad idea right now.

The other side of the coin is that many people get a quick hit of news and information from their social media feeds and the headlines in their emails. Oddly enough, those headlines and the social media links that they run into feed directly into the fears that they already have, whether it’s some clickbait link that shouts about a state of emergency or it’s some website that claims that someone is hiding the cure for the virus from us.

The fears that we already have can work with these links and stories to websites that we somehow came to trust (because everything on the internet is true) to create in us worse fear. Then people share them with their networks and the next thing you know, the virus has killed millions and I’m next, unless I buy this snake oil product or this high-tech mask. They may be the only things that will save my life.

Enough of that. The point is that it’s tough to weed through the mess of stuff out there. Some of it is designed to make us afraid while some is designed to make us informed. Stay informed and if you’re not feeling well, stay home.

About Patrick Wraight

Patrick Wraight, CIC, CRM, AU, is director of Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. He can be reached at pwraight@ijacademy.com.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.