Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

Ubiquitous or innocuous?

Just because something is ubiquitous does not mean that it is innocuous.

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We are surrounded by many things that are either sanctioned, tolerated, or have become commonplace in our eyes—but that can (and often do) present serious danger to us: chemicals used in our foods and packaging, destructive personalities, pollution—even the sun. It is human nature to discount the nature of a threat the longer we coexist with that threat (and/or the more dependent we are on it). In such circumstances, things tend to go well…until they don’t. More often than not, with time we cease to see the potential threat as a threat, but rather as just “part of the landscape”. With our guard down, we experience the inevitable consequences of such self-delusion as a complete surprise.

The purpose of this aphorism is not to suggest that one should avoid the sun. Instead, it advises that we always bear in mind that “common” is not synonymous with “benign”. Our ability to survive is not synonymous with an actual mitigation of the dangers we survive. If we engage with dangerous things repeatedly, we may win a few of the battles, but the “war” will be won by—and we will ultimately succumb to—the unchanging nature of such things, despite our unshakeable belief in our ability to “manage” or “handle” them.

And don’t look to others to protect your interests:

Store owners will happily sell you cigarettes, liquor, and sugar-glazed doughnuts.

Casinos will happily let you gamble.

You can drive as fast as you want on the autobahn.

Seeing your surroundings clearly is the first step in deciding which risks you are willing to take, and which risks you will avoid. Before you can do this, you must see past the familiar.

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