Emotional Proximity

As risk managers, we are used to a number of dimensions to risk which we regularly or occasionally bring into our assessment of risk.  Yesterday, I was led to consider a new dimension by one of the delegates on a two day Project Management course, so thank you to Melissa at the Big Lottery Fund.

The same old – same old

We all know about likelihood, proximity, impact, source and trigger factors, but Melissa’s answer to the question “what else would you consider” led me to think about the relevance of proximity in another sense.

I have always thought about proximity in time.  We give more priority to risks that may impact soon, than to those which may impact in a long time.  Take for example anthropogenic global warming.  Argue as much as you like about the impact and the time scale, but this is happening.  It’s potential consequences range from alarming (wholesale shifts in climate and changes in agricultural patterns, along with reductions in bio-diversity) to terrifying (loss of low-lying land displacing up to a quarter of the world’s human population, leaving them without access to living space, water, food and sanitation).

So why are world leaders doing so little about it?  Proximity: if it happens, it is still 40-100 years away.

But why is there not more outcry?

Is this because of the proximity effect?  Almost certainly.  But I wonder if it is as much geographic as temporal – that is to say, the democratic, affluent nations whose populations have most political power are a long way from the places where the impact will be most severe.

And then came Melissa

… who got me wondering.  Is it just geographic and chronological proximity that are at work?  Maybe it’s emotional proximity too.  Maybe we are just not close enough emotionally to the people that will suffer.  They live in distant lands, and occupy a future time when many of us will be dead or heading that way.

The “so what?”

It seems to me the future of the planet is in the hands of a small group of people.  They are immigrants into the powerful nations from the less powerful ones; they are economically powerful and confident to make their voices heard; and critically, they are grandparents.

Emotional proximity – how is it affecting your decision making?  Examine your process and re-evaluate.


One thought on “Emotional Proximity

  1. John Goodpasture

    I live in Florida. Florida has close to $4000-Billion worth of tangible assets within about 20 miles of its Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, much of which is theatened by the worst predictions of global warming, and only a fraction of which could be reasonably compensated by insurance. And, the majority of Florida’s 13M people live in this zone. So, I don’t think the large and prosperous nations are without, or unaware of, significant threat from the worst of predictions re global warming.

    I think in this case the temporal aspect and the standard deviation of the uncertainty are playing the largest role in political reticence.

    I think emotional distance, a really good idea, is better represented by the rapid fall-off in interest in distant disasters AFTER they occur: most recent example–Haiti. That is to say, emotion has a strong temporal component, else grieving would never work!


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