Risk Aversion


I went into a men’s room in an office building today and noticed that all the urinals had signs on them that read 

Non-Potable Water—Do Not Drink

A warning sign like “Caution — Wet Floor” is there to protect the owner of the floor against legal action in case somebody slips and breaks an arm or something. It can happen. But who drinks water from a urinal?  Urinals are designed in a way just doesn’t invite drinking from them the way, say, a garden hose does. You would have to stick your head in the urinal and catch water falling from the top in your mouth. Even very short men couldn’t pull it off easily. I suppose if, after the flush, there is any water lying at the bottom; you could lap it up like a dog. Well, okay, if you carry a cup with you, getting the water from the urinal wouldn’t be so difficult.

It seems as though we’re becoming extremely risk averse.  But the warning against drinking urinal water makes me think that our risk aversion may well have as much to do with increasing longevity as with fear of litigation. It’s hard to imagine somebody getting sick from drinking urinal water and successfully suing the owner of the urinal because there was no sign warning against it. But the longer we can potentially live, the more tragic an early death seems. “He was only seventy-two, and he died from a urinary tract infection. If only he hadn’t drunk the urinal water.”

So as life spans increase, we might start to see more signs warning us not to do things that carry some tiny risk even though nobody in his or her right mind would ever think of doing them. I regularly walk my son’s dog and dutifully pick up his poops with the handy poop bags, which I then dispose of in trash bins along a business street. But what if somebody is looking for something in the trash bin and comes across a poop bag with no warning on it?  I mean, it’s in a bag that’s all closed up. It could be mistaken for something edible. Each poop bag should carry a warning.

Dog Feces—Do Not Eat

How about door knobs? Everybody touches door knobs, so they must be crawling with all sorts of germs and bacteria. Surely the condition of most door knobs merits a warning sign.

Crawling with Germs –Do Not Lick

Walking into doors can result in serious injury.

Solid Wood—Open Before Attempting to Proceed

What about steep cliffs?

Steep Decline—Avoid Driving Off

Even certain people could be required by law to display warning signs.

Los Angeles drivers

Aggressive and Armed—Do Not Annoy


Magical Thinker—Avoid Seeking Medical Advice

New Age spiritual seeker


The New Age spiritual seeker wouldn’t be life-threatening in the same way as Los Angeles drivers and naturopaths, but as we live longer and longer, quality of life becomes extremely important. Get involved with a New Age spiritual seeker, and before you know it, you’ll be reading books by Deepak Chopra. Mark Twain once referred to the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, as chloroform in print. Reading Deepak Chopra is like getting a lobotomy. It won’t kill you, but it can leave you severely restricted in your sense of reality, and you might start to believe that you understand something profound about quantum physics, which is no way to spend your twilight years.

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