Real and Perceived Danger

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

I’ve just seen a news article about the shooting at a mall in El Paso, Texas, and it’s gotten me thinking about danger. I’ve been traveling for a year and a half in places unknown, in countries with terrible reputations and my poor mother is worried about me every day. Why? Because it’s dangerous – there is danger lurking in every corner. In Colombia, I might have seen gangs with guns and drug dealers. In Buenos Aires, someone on a motorcycle was supposed to steal the cell phone out of my hand. In Peru, I might have been kidnapped. And yet, ironically, we think America is safer? In my year and a half of travel, the only consistent news stories about danger that I’ve seen are gun shootings. All of them have been in America. 

As I think about all this danger and violence in the world, I realize something. Danger, itself, is an industry. It’s a very lucrative business when you come right down to it, one that governments can profit from, as much as individuals. I’m not saying they are, but think about it. People are willing to pay for safety. Sidenote – I recently learned you can actually buy kidnapping insurance! It doesn’t help you avoid kidnapping, it gets you a person to help ask for your return

“Danger may be a business, and safety may be a perception.”

Think about this – if a city has a dangerous reputation, you may, or you may not, go. If you do go, and you do your research and learn about potential dangers, you’re going to be more willing to pay for an expensive hotel, maybe a bodyguard, certainly taxis or tour companies that have a good reputation for safety. The threat of danger will make you invest more resources into the local economy to prevent being in danger.

Bush junior won a second term as President, in part, because we were all scared of terrorism and that fear was used to manipulate our opinion. Data breaches make us run and buy subscriptions to companies that are supposed to protect our identity, thus not only creating another potential place for a data breach, but also tons more spending. The fear of imminent danger is very lucrative and drives decision-making and money-spending.
While I have no doubt that danger exists, and, currently in Cape Town, South Africa, even the locals tell me to take an Uber and not dare to walk alone outside the radius of my hotel. Obviously I’m not going to risk my life, but they encourage me to spend money on a local taxi driver, rather than to walk, which is much cheaper. I’m not supposed to go into a Township, but there is a tour that visits a Township. Everyone I have met that’s been to Africa has talked about very horrible potential scenarios I don’t want to find myself in. I am VERY, VERY grateful that I have not encountered danger (apart from one bad experience). In part, I’m sure it’s because I’m always home by dark, or shortly thereafter, unless in the company of new friends. I don’t go to bars alone, I don’t drink alone, and I don’t go home with strangers. I take that taxi when in doubt. But, sometimes, I wonder, are there some places where danger is used to manipulate spending? And, what’s more dangerous, going to Colombia, or going to high school, or a shopping mall, in America? And if we keep sending kids to high school, and going to malls in America, why are we trying to stop other people from seeing the world?

In Rio de Janeiro, a city I was warned profusely about at night, I felt perfectly safe. My tour guide explained that it’s the nearby suburbs of Rio that have most of the problems, but everyone hears “Rio” and the danger got associated with the city itself. I think most cities have dangerous areas and that doesn’t change from one country to the next.

Perhaps the confusing thing about danger is that in America it seems random, whereas abroad, it’s quite specific; avoid certain areas known for danger, don’t take taxis for fear of kidnapping in others, and don’t walk alone at night in still other places. Ironically, I find it safer to be in places with specific threats of violence – you know what to do and where not to be to avoid it – than in a place where the violence is so random. Now there’s another shooting in America, in Dayton, Ohio. You’d think they’d make some gun control, but, my guess is, danger is a business – when people buy guns, they make gun fabricators rich, and it’s not in their best interest to have people stop buying guns. So, is the outside world really more dangerous than America? Or do we simply feel safer in the worlds we know, than those we don’t?

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