For most of the past year, I figured coronavirus could do serious harm if I got infected, but avoiding people kept my exposure low. Last month, I traveled to a state where exposure was almost ubiquitous, trusting vaccination to minimize my risk.
All our lives we weigh risks as a basis for decisions, large and small. I’ve long thought of risk as having two elements: how likely is something to happen, and how bad might it be if it does? Lately I’ve noticed a third major element: personal risk tolerance. As my sociologist father taught me long ago, statistics predict populations, not individuals. How much certainty does your spirit require? What is your comfort with the unknown?
Data and logic go only so far. In the waning of the pandemic, some of my vaccinated friends remain outdoors in masks. Others dine in restaurants and hop on airplanes. There’s nothing wrong with letting emotions influence our choices. Without emotions, in fact, neuroscience suggests we couldn’t make decisions at all.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.