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  • Last modified 236 days ago (April 13, 2022)

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A 911 call for help

Recent experience with threats of violence in schools makes us wonder exactly what it means to be safe.

To be sure, canceling classes ensured one type of safety, but it may have helped create an unsafe climate of fear that led to similarly unfounded threats and overly cautious actions elsewhere.

Believe it or not, our greatest mathematical chance of dying involves Earth being struck by a giant meteor. A strike of that magnitude might be very unlikely, but should it happen, the entire planet would die.

Ask Mr. Spock, some kid studying fractions, or a college student doing actuarial work. For those of us who didn’t celebrate the end of math class as if it were the passing of a plague, it’s a numerator/denominator thing: low chances of something actually happening versus high chances of a deadly outcome if it did.

Despite the odds, we don’t go around buying anti-meteorite umbrellas or constantly casting watchful eyes toward the skies. Although it may sounds callous to say we similarly might ignore something that could be life-or-death to some of the most precious members of society — our young — perhaps the intangible fear we live with is as damaging to our spirits as the tangible fear of gun violence actually occurring.

In the 1960s, society was wary of acting on bomb threats because they created more fake threats. Then again, in the 1950s, we practiced “duck and cover,” as if children putting their heads beneath classroom desks would protect them in nuclear attacks.

Reasonable people can react differently to the same circumstances, and no one should be condemned for canceling or failing to cancel classes last week. But we all should be mindful that sinister forces, like those in power in Russia, can quickly learn how easy it is to paralyze our society by making a few vague 911 calls.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 13, 2022

 

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