Learning to live dangerously

“How to Live Dangerously: The Hazards of Helmets, the Benefits of Bacteria, and the Risks of Living Too Safe” by Warwick Cairns, c.2009, St. Martin’s Press, $12.95, 160 pages.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

“How to Live Dangerously: The Hazards of Helmets, the Benefits of Bacteria, and the Risks of Living Too Safe” by Warwick Cairns, c.2009, St. Martin’s Press, $12.95, 160 pages.

You want yourself and your family to live a long, healthy life.

To be sure that happens, you always use antibacterial soap, detergent and tissues, and you wipe down the kitchen and bathroom often. You get your shots, drive carefully, insist on a helmet when bike riding and you’re aware of the surfaces you touch in public.

And all that might just make things worse. In the new book “How to Live Dangerously” by Warwick Cairns, you’ll learn why a little devil-may-care attitude may be better for you and your kids.

Do you believe that the world is a more dangerous place than it was, say, 40 years ago? More than three-quarters of us do, but Cairns says that’s just perception. While we teach kids about “stranger danger,” the truth is that a fraction of abductions are committed by people unknown to the family. Just five victims died of Mad Cow disease and nobody died of Bird Flu, Cairns writes. Still, when we learn about these Diseases of the Week, we worry because, well, that’s what we do.

And we do it because we can’t help it. Our brains are hard-wired to worry and to see danger where there is none.

Statistically, you have a greater chance of being killed by your bed than by hang-gliding. Gardening is riskier than scuba diving. You’d have to take an airplane flight a day, every day, for 26,000 years to “be sure of crashing.” Even “organic” foods contain traces of pesticides. Amazingly, if you ride a bike to work without a helmet, you’re statistically safer than if you drove your car there.

Studies also show that kids allowed to play outdoors unsupervised are more sociable and confident and that children who are allowed to get dirty suffer from fewer allergies later in life.

So what’s the point of all this? Cairns says we worry too much about our health and we miss out on life. Prudence is good, but there is such a thing as going overboard. As it turns out, a little danger, some dirt and a few germs are good for us, as well as a whole lot more fun.

Remember the kind of freedom you had as a kid? You played outside, rode your bike, walked around the neighborhood and nobody gave it a thought. You kind of miss that, don’t you? Cairns says you can step back and savor that way of life again and you can do it without losing sleep.

Using humor and real statistics, Cairns doesn’t advocate carelessness so much as he advocates being more carefree. Yes, he says, there are definite precautions we all need to take but the truth is, in our zeal to be absolutely safe, we miss out on some truly enjoyable (and only slightly risky) activities.

While ultra-careful readers could argue that “all it takes is one time,” this book is a call for relaxation and living life. Pick up “How to Live Dangerously” and enjoy it.

But wash your hands first.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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