As many of you surely know by now, three women in the past week and a half have been killed while running.
I won't get into the details here, except to say that in two cases the victim was brutalized and sexually assaulted. Police say the cases appear to be unrelated.
People, runners especially, are freaking out.
Understandably so—vicious crimes are, well, vicious. These cases are especially savage. The victims were each "one of us," runners, doing this thing that we do day in and day out. And the seeming randomness, the "wrong place at the wrong time" element, is perhaps the most terrifying of all.
That could have been me, we think. Or my wife, or my daughter, or my sister.
The fact that we've seen three such cases in such a short time only amplifies our terror. Suddenly we go from fearful to hysterical, rational to irrational.
That is a bad place to be.
Humans are notoriously bad at assessing risk. We consistently overestimate the chances of one fate befalling us while badly underestimating the chances of another that's much, much more likely.
In short, we worry about the wrong stuff. And it can have serious repercussions. Remember Ebola?
The fact is that, overall, we are safer than we've been in years. Rates of violent crime have been falling steadily during that time.
Yes, these recent attacks are terrifying. But they don't reflect a trend, and they don't mean we all need to be paralyzed with fear every time we reach for our running shoes.
Does this mean we shouldn't be cautious? Does it mean we shouldn't be aware of our surroundings, make smart choices, use common sense? Shouldn't opt to run with a friend whenever we can, rather than alone? Of course not. We should do all of those things, on every run. That's always been true, and always will be.
While we're doing all of that, though, we owe it to ourselves to take a deep breath and keep an eye on the bigger picture. To react to news like this without over-reacting.
Among other things, it must be said, that means thinking twice before deciding to carry a loaded gun while running.
Will carrying that gun save your life one day? Will you use it just as you're imagining, to "take out" a bad guy who chose the wrong runner to target that day?
I happen to think that scenario is incredibly unlikely, but... Yeah, maybe you will.
In the highly unlikely event that you are attacked, probably by an assailant using the element of surprise, will that same gun "get away from you"? Will it fire accidentally? Will you, or a bystander, be shot instead?
I've never been involved in an attack like this, thankfully. (And, as a man, I understand that I'm less likely to be targeted.) But given everything I've heard and read, given the chaos and panic that ensues and how quickly things happen, that second scenario is more realistic.
On balance, is the tradeoff worth it? Each of us has to make that decision for ourselves.
What I'm urging, all I'm urging, is that these decisions—whether to be scared, how scared to be, whether to carry a gun—be made not in a state of panic, but a state of calm. And not in the fun-house mirror landscape of irrational fear, but in the real world.
What I'm urging is pause, reflection, and balance.
Keep running, everyone. Stay safe.