An Unnecessary Numbers Game


This past week two equally terrible but different tragic events happened that have captured America’s collective attention. On Monday, terrorists placed bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Those bombs detonated, killing 3 people and injuring scores more. Then just Wednesday afternoon, there was a massive explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant than has killed anywhere from 5-15 people and injured hundreds more with massive property damage and loss.

One event was a terrorist attack, the other was an industrial accident. Both are terrible, tragic events; but neither of these should be quantified by the numbers. Our society is so focused on how much and how many that often times true sorrow and reflection on events like these is overlooked. Why the need to quantify? It is almost like we rate these events on a scale of 1 to 10. We really shouldn’t.

I suppose it’s in our nature. As self-aware, sentient beings, we need to have logical pillars of reasoning to focus on. Quantifying tragedies helps us cope. The 24 hour news cycle that now permeates every aspect of world culture is a likely culprit also. Numbers makes headlines. Saying how many died and how much the cost of the damage is makes us focus on that little persistent ticker on the bottom of the screen as it rolls by. It’s almost as if the news tells us what the numbers are so we know how much to care. “Oh, only 3 people died? Well, good thing, it could have been worse.” Well, it is worse for the families, friends, and others who knew the deceased. It’s worse for those who lost their homes, cars, livelihood, and pets. There’s more to these events, whether accidental or with heinous purpose, than just who was hurt and killed.

What about the events that led to unknown terrorists being able to breach tight security at a major international event like the Boston Marathon? Did someone’s vigilance wane? Who failed at their job? Who failed to follow the innumerable safety protocols that are set in place when storing and manufacturing fertilizer? How many corners were cut? How badly was the company understaffing the facility? How did a fire start in the first place? These are the questions that are pinging around in my head and I hope they are in yours too. The news shows you some treacly remembrance video montage of the lost and interviews with their loved ones. That is tragic, no doubt, and I tear up when I watch, but sometimes I think it’s done to just get us to forget the reasons why it happened and what we can do to prevent events like these in the future.

I guess I’m just a story behind the story kind of guy. I wanna go deeper. I need more than the numbers that we are given.

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