Ask Dr. Helen: Preparing for Disaster -- Prudent or Paranoid?

So when does preparing for the worst shade over from prudence into paranoia? That's a question that often comes up when people talk about preparing for disasters, financial meltdowns, or confrontation with criminals. How much is enough, and how much is too much?

It's been over a year that I have been writing this column and I happened to take a look recently at the first piece I wrote, entitled "What Kinds of Things Should an Adult Be Able to Do?" The article and your responses got me thinking about being prepared for disasters or incidents in general that require skill and forethought to overcome. Using Heinlein's quote on generalization, I opined that it was important for adults to be able to do a number of things such as drive a stick shift or swim a reasonable distance. Heinlein's quote is as follows:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

What about applying Heinlein's thoughts to disaster preparedness? In my estimation, it is prudent -- within reason -- to be able to handle a wide range of situations that call for general skills, just as Heinlein suggests. It is important to be prepared for any number of natural or man-made disasters even though the chances of being the victim of any specific one may be small. I will include self-defense here because being a victim of a crime is not necessarily a rare occurence but one that happens all too often; in 2006, for example, an estimated 1,417,000 violent crimes were committed across the country.

If you bring up preparing for certain disasters such as violent crime, people will often tell you you're paranoid, particularly if they do not like where you are coming from politically and this is true for both sides of the spectrum, left and right. Try bringing up gun training to someone who doesn't believe we need self-defense or mistakenly thinks that the police will protect you. They will try to convince you that you don't need to train because the threat is small or you are paranoid.

Other naysayers will tell you that your preparation is fruitless. For example, I have a post on Krav Maga -- an Israeli form of self-defense -- and a commenter felt that learning this type of self-defense for me was probably a waste of time because I would be going up against an attacker more savvy and streetwise. Yeah, that's always a reason to sit back like a wallflower and just hope passively that nothing bad will ever happen.

I think it's a lot more intelligent to train -- both with weapons and without -- in order to have some ability to protect oneself. Not because I am paranoid -- okay, maybe I am -- but because as an adult, it is a good thing to be prepared in the event of a crime. Does this mean you will succeed? No, but nothing is 100%. I would rather have some skills than none. And sometimes preparation is just good for self-sufficiency, like growing one's own food as I did this year. Sure, the decline of cheap oil and the threat of hard times to come may play a factor in prompting people to grow more food themselves, but if the only result is that I have a healthier snack to eat, is that so bad?

Many of us, from both sides of the political aisle, think that planning for disaster would be helpful but it is hard to know how much of disaster preparation is political and how much realistic. My husband, Glenn, in an article in TCS Daily makes these points:

There's also a political angle. Back in the 1990s, it was the Soldier of Fortune crowd that was preparing for some sort of apocalyptic scenario. Back then, the Democrats were in power, and much of the apocalypticism we heard was from the right. Now, with the Republicans in power over the past six years, the apocalypticism has shifted leftward. A quick perusal of Amazon demonstrates this: Where once people on the right were worried about the shock troops of the socialist New World Order or the breakup of America into racial enclaves, now it seems like it's mostly lefties worrying about self-reliance in the face of collapsing unsustainable technology and the dangers of suburban extinction in the face of high oil prices.