Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Scouting Trip: Fear and Locking

Ecuador is a country of Haves and Have-Nots. But listening to the warnings of the locals and seeing the walled homes and locked gates, you might think it was Beirut.

There is probably some historical risk that embedded the sensibility in the culture. The cultural response to threats is typically out of all proportion to the threat itself and outlasts the threat in similar scope (you were already thinking 9/11, so I won’t mention it).

But research on today’s crime statistics and anecdotal evidence don't necessarily bear out the fear. According to one multinational study, “The overall crime rate in Ecuador is low compared to industrialized countries.” The U.S. State Department says that crime in Ecuador is “a severe problem” but has no data. But statistically, the U.S. blows Ecuador out of the water for crime rates in almost every category; even taking into some account unreported crime, which is very common here.

This is not unique to Ecuador, of course. In the States people make decisions based on worst potential consequences rather than by probabilities. Example: I remember in the 1970s the news of a few (or even one?) kids in the country biting into an apple they got in their Halloween bag and finding, the hard way, a razor blade. After hearing this, no parent would allow their kids to accept or eat apples at Halloween. Then some kids broke their arms on playgrounds and we got rubberized playgrounds where they can't possibly hurt themselves and learn the risks and consequences (and rewards) of "dangerous" behavior. Then came sports where they don't keep score and everyone's a winner (you know, just like real life).

Point is, life is a bit risky, and we are pretty well made up to not only deal with that risk, if we so choose, but also to thrive on dealing with it. So though we read the scary media stories, we should also realize that danger is not new, and is, in our everyday lives, actually far less than it used to be. Life holds danger and great and wonderful reward. You cannot have one without the other.

A friend passed on the State Department's "safety and security" information on Ecuador. It was a long and scary litany of very specific dangers. But it lacks context. The State Department's job is to tell you about every possible danger you might face and how you might avoid it or deal with it should you face it. To help understand it, it would be nice to have the SD do safety and security for the U.S. What would that look like? Well, once you read about any other country and think about what happens here, you might begin to think these places look safe. And they are. Relative to what safety means to any of us in our everyday lives.

But Ecuadorians are human, too, and they seem very much to behave as Americans do in relation to the over-communicated dangers in their lives. Again, yes, there is danger, but throw up walls, locks, and fear of strangers...the terrorists have already won. Get out and go shopping!

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