If there's one thing we've learned from our elders it's that death is a big shit sandwich, and we've all gotta scarf it down one day. Assuming you're not a robot who can simply transfer your consciousness into a new body when the Reaper comes a-knocking, you've probably spent a little time pondering what is going to take you out in the end.
Chances are you're worrying about the wrong sandwich. Statistics show that the bogeymen behind some of the most widespread fears and phobias are downright toothless. At least when compared to the seemingly innocent stuff you didn't know could take you out at any moment. For instance ...
Jaws, Deep Blue Sea and countless Syfy originals all tell us that sharks are killing dudes left and right. They're practically the Grim Reapers of the ocean. Sure, we know that sharks don't really attack a whole lot of people, but we see one shadow swimming back and forth beneath the waves at the beach and we don't give even the smallest shit about what's realistic -- our asses are headed back to shore.
And then we call this guy.
The media love to get in on the shark action, too. Like in 2001, when a young boy was attacked by a bull shark at Langdon Beach in Florida, then another attack occurred in the Bahamas. Before you knew it, we were dealing with a full-on shark invasion, the coverage of which was later dubbed "The Summer of the Shark." Everyone was so freaked out by the attacks that legislators were actually pushed to pass legislation to deal with sharks, which they totally did.
It actually turned out later that shark attacks were down when compared with previous years. The fact is, on average, only one, single, solitary person in the United States dies from a shark attack each year, a 1 in 3,748,067 chance in your lifetime. For every year that several people are killed by sharks, there are plenty of other years in which no one is.
What You Should be Afraid of:
You want to know what blood thirsty, murderous beast kills about 20 times as many people?
Cows. Cows killed 108 people between 2003 and 2008, an average of about 22 deaths a year, or a 1 in 173,871 chance. Like we said above, sharks just don't really attack that many people. Most of the time, they don't even attack people on purpose. They just think you kinda look like their food.
Cows, on the other hand, are pretty big and hella strong. They're easily able to crush a fully grown adult, and people are around them far more than they're around sharks. A charging bull or stampede can still take you by surprise and kill you dead before you can yell "Land Shark!" In other words, you're more likely to die by cow hoof than by shark bite ... and that's not even touching mad cow disease or E. coli.
If you've watched television for more than 35 seconds in the last nine years, you might be aware that there are these people called terrorists, and they're going to destroy everything you love about America and capitalism. They could strike anywhere, and at any time.
While it's true that some of this fear has abated a bit in the years since 2001, one doesn't need to look far to find people who are horrified of getting caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. After all, terrorist plots are still ongoing, as evidenced by the Times Square car bomb attempt in May 2010 or Barack Obama's recent announcement about a foiled plot involving UPS and FedEx planes.. The fear has so permeated our consciousness that NPR contributor Juan Williams thought he was just echoing everyone else's sentiments when he expressed fear over seeing traditionally dressed Muslims on airplanes.
But Williams wasn't wrong to think others might share his headscarf vigilance. America has terrorism on the brain. And what do terrorists do? They kill people, that's what. Surely, by this point we all know at least one person who was killed by a terrorist, right?
Heart disease is not a terrorist.
Actually, chances are, you don't. In the years since 9/11, the statistical chance of being killed in a terror attack in the Western world has fallen to basically zero.
What You Should be Afraid of:
If you think we're cheating by only counting deaths since 9/11, then how about this: In the last decade -- including the 9/11 attacks -- you've been about 10 times more likely to die from a fire you accidentally set in your home than from a terrorist attack. Somebody should make a show about a Jack Bauer type who runs around reminding people to put out the goddamned cigarette before they pass out on the sofa.
"Ashtrays people, Jesus."
What's the perfect torture contraption for a person who is afraid of heights, tight spaces and free-falling to his death? Besides a mechanism that stuffs that person into a coffin and catapults him off a canyon, obviously? An elevator. An elevator is the correct answer.
While they're the perfect cinematic devices for sexual tension and surprise character deaths, in reality elevators are hardly dangerous at all: Only about six people a year die in elevator accidents.
What You Should be Afraid of:
You're more likely to meet your death taking the stairs than riding an elevator. A little less than 2,000 people a year are killed by falling down stairs, giving you a lifetime chance of 1 in 1,818 and making stairs officially the deadliest thing in this article.
Don't run. That just provokes them.
It's a pretty simple equation, and probably the only thing Die Hard got right about building safety. Elevators are built to very high standards. There's not just one cable holding you up, there are six to eight, and each one is capable of holding up the entire listed capacity of the car, plus another 25 percent. One of those cables is also connected to a governor that determines when the car is falling too fast. If that happens, it kicks on a set of copper shoes on the sides of the elevator car that act like emergency brakes, bringing it to a halt within a few feet. There's even a big hydraulic spring at the bottom of the elevator shaft that will cushion the blow, just in case all that other shit fails.
Stairs, on the other hand, are fucking stairs. You're lucky to have a handrail, and if there's something spilled on them, you're not paying attention, you're trying to run down them too fast or you're moronically trying to slide down the banister, you're gonna fall all the way to the bottom, and it'll probably hurt pretty bad. And God help you if Bruce Willis rides you down a set of stair like you're a sled. He's going to murder you, make fun of the size of your feet and draw all over you with a marker.
So remember kids: Climbing around in elevator shafts = witty one liners.
Wrestling near stairs = 'Oh my God, what have I done to deserve this?'