What Are The Odds?
Being a lawyer can be stressful. In the course of representing someone, there are plenty of “bad things” that can happen. Twenty-five years ago, when I was considered a “young” lawyer, I was told by on “old” lawyer not to worry, because “99.9% of the time, things work out.” He went on to say, “It’s that .01% that keeps us awake at night.” I’m pretty sure his comment was not the result of formal statistical research, but was more of an observation based upon professional and life experience. Over the years, I’ve repeated those words to myself and others when facing the prospect or fear of something bad happening. And now that I’ve become the “old” lawyer, I generally agree with his observation.
So it was that yesterday afternoon as I drove home from work, I heard on my car radio that people had died as the result of a suspected terrorist attack in New York City. My daughter is a freshman in college there and my first thought was to immediately text her to make sure she was alright. Because I was driving, I had to wait until I came to a stop light to send the text: “U OK?” and then wait for a response. In the intervening moments I found myself thinking: “No need to worry, the odds of her being involved are miniscule… 99.9% of the time, everything is OK.” Two minutes later (are you sure there are only 60 seconds in a minute, because it seemed longer?) she responded that she was safe. The dread of the .01% was relieved.
As the hours passed we learned that yesterday’s incident in New York was a terrorist act, perpetrated by someone who immigrated to the United States in 2010. By this morning, there were those who suggested that this is further evidence that our immigration laws are too lenient and unjustified by the risk of future incidents like this one. I recently read that I have a 0.00003% chance of dying in an attack perpetrated by a foreign born person. And there I was worrying about the .01%.
I would like to believe that I am always a 99.9% positive person. Someone who overwhelmingly expects to encounter the good in others. Someone whose hopefulness in that good is closer to a feeling of certainty than a sense of “hoping against hope.” However, there is no doubt that when I hear about bad things happening to others, it makes me less positive. It pushes me towards seeing the possibility of bad in those I encounter. It has a negative impact on my hope meter.
This morning, as I drove back to work, I heard the governor of New York speaking about the goodness of the people of New York City. He spoke of their resilience and how a traditional Halloween parade went forward last night, despite what had happened. Thousands of people gathering together on the street rather than staying in their homes. An act of unity in the face of terror that was calculated to divide. He spoke of his continued hope and belief in the goodness of people and the importance of reinforcing this belief in the community.
There are times when our hopes and expectations are supported by the statistics, and there are times when it feels like we are just hoping against hope. As Christians, we are continuously reminded of our hope in Christ, whose love for us is reflected as the good in each of us. For this reason, we are called to hope for and see the good in each person we encounter. Let us not live our lives in fear of the .01%.
Ty Gomez is a current NorthPark Presbyterian ruling elder, chair of the Communications Committee, and soccer dad. In his spare time, he practices law, plans more unfinished woodworking projects, and cooks for the women in his home.