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Why Do We Ignore Danger?

There are dangerous hazards all around us, yet we tend to discount them. Growing up, I had a friend that was fond of saying, “If it was a snake it would’ve bit you” whenever I was looking for something and found it right in front of me. I never thought much about this until recently when I asked my class why we continue to ignore hazards despite having some bad experiences with them. I think that we underestimate the power of the obvious problems that loom right in front of us.

According to Michelle Wucker, these are “gray rhinos.” We get into most trouble when we’ve ignored obvious problems. These “gray rhinos” are huge and charging right at us and ought to be harder to ignore. Yet we miss the most important information—like calling rhinos black and white even though they are all gray.[1] We will get trampled despite the fine details. Research shows that that we are vulnerable to cognitive biases that make us likely to downplay unwelcome information and to be over-optimistic.[2] We must be diligent and not miss the danger, because we fail to see it.

Dangerous hazards all around us, and failing to recognize them does nothing to stop them. As emergency manager’s part of our role is to educate others about danger. These risks, like my friend used to say are right in front of us. We need to face them head-on and not act as if they don’t exist.


[2] Neil Garrett, Stephanie Lazzaro, Dan Ariely, and Tali Sharot (2016), “The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty.” Nature Neuroscience.

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