what to do? what to do?

Image: Wired Magazine Oct 2009

From Wired magazine:

Ralph Keeney wants to improve our lives—by making us confront our deaths. In a recent study published in the journal Operations Research, Keeney, a decision analyst at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, crunched data from the Centers for Disease Control to assess how many deaths in the US are due to personal choices—things like smoking, overeating, or unsafe sex. The results: A remarkable 55 percent of deaths for people age 15 to 64 can be attributed to decisions with readily available alternatives. In other words, most people are the agents of their own demise. That’s a vast difference from a century ago, when, Keeney estimates, a scant 5 percent of deaths were brought on by personal decisions (infectious diseases account for most of the rest).

An interesting concept and one that can be applied to anything discussed here from what tactical/strategic decision you make to how you decide to live your life. Much of what happens to you is based on what YOU decided to do at some point in time. Make wise decisions.

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6 thoughts on “what to do? what to do?”

  1. Well, yes. And the only proper response is “So What?” in 1900, in the pre-antibiotic era, there was a tremendous infant mortality rate. With unfiltered water, you had things like cholera, and schistosomiasis, which are still plagues in the developing world. If the majority of the population are subsistence farmers with no ability to get food to areas of famine, well more people starve. No antibiotics, and folks die of pneumonia, and TB, and rheumatic heart diseases.

    We now live long enough to have problems of our own making. And even if you eliminated smoking, or overeating, obesity and unsafe sex–the mortality rate would still be 100% Cancer and atherosclerotic heart disease are diseases of the elderly. Safe, comfortable, wealthy populations get those.

    1. I think the idea is in the title of the post “What to do?” and the comment about what “you” do making a difference in ‘your’ life (meaning individually).

      I think, regardless of the average life expectancy of any age, that people have always made their own problems in some way. Within the context of the post, I take away the idea the reminder that people do have to take personal responsibility for choices. For instance, if someone has been smoking since they were 14 and ‘suddenly’ develops lung cancer playing the victim is a ‘disempowered’ mentality that separates the individual’s choices and responsibility from the results.

      It doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. Just taking responsibility for your own quirks and either learning to work with them or changing them so you can keep a job requires the ability to take ownership of who you are.

      You can’t take credit for accomplishments if you aren’t willing to take responsibility for failures as well. Both are powerful in shaping who we become.

  2. I get cautious about statistics like this and the inferences that people take away from them so thanks, Tom, for focusing on the ‘micro’ conclusion of owning your life and taking charge through conscious choices. It’s also interesting how the issue of death is so taboo for everyday conversation that discussing death stats in Wired is considered “edgy” as well.

    In the macro, there are issues that contribute to this huge leap that must be considered such as

    technological advancements (which means the ‘toys’ that boys play with are more powerful and likely to kill you quicker if you accept the risk),

    medical advancements (longer lives so more choice opportunities AND population booms so more ppl to make choices)

    improvements in media/communication (which means more opportunities to collaborate/network on choices and/or be influenced by other ppls choices)

    and the shift from agro to industrial living (denser populations and more liquid income means more opportunities for choices)

    and plain old ‘Mr. Murphy’ as well.

    1. The way I read it. The author of this theory is saying that our biggest risk of death is NOW our own decision making. In the past we were more likely to die of various diseases (as mentioned in comments here) than we were by personal decisions like drug use, DWI, stupid “Jackass” stunts etc.

      1. That’s how I read it on a personal interpretation level too: All the social/civil/technical advances of a ‘first world’ country means that we have more control to make or brake ourselves.

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