Posted on April 26, 2013 by Xavier Toby

Why do we care so much about the Boston Bombings?

Boston Bombings

(Article first appeared on WA Today on Friday, April 26)

Three people died and more than two hundred were injured in the Boston Marathon Bombings.

Two days later, a Texan fertilizer factory exploded, killing far more people but attracted less coverage.

On these same days around the world many more died in events that received even less, or no, media coverage in Australia.

So are American lives worth more than the rest?

I don’t think so.

We care so much about Boston, not just because it happened, but because it could so easily have happened to us.

I was looking at that vision thinking it could have been me. Some terrorist could so easily do the exact same thing the next time I run a marathon.

Well maybe not a marathon. A half-marathon. Okay, a fun run, but the point is they often have crowded finish lines.

When news of the Boston marathon bombings was zinging around the world, a friend of mine who’s a marathon runner was trying to find out the exact time of the explosions. He wanted to work out if he would’ve finished around the same time.

To me this seems morbid and strange, but proves he was worried about it happening to him.

Apparently he would’ve finished about thirty minutes before the bomb went off, unless his hamstring was playing up.

We’re interested in the plight of Australians overseas. Not because we necessarily care more about Australians, but because we are Australian.

That Australian on holiday who was kidnapped, or in a plane crash, or got that rare disease where lizards breed in your bowels?  That could’ve been us.

We’ve been to that place or know a friend who’s just got back from there, and heck, we might even know someone who knows someone, who actually knows Schapelle Corby.

The odds of being involved in a terrorist attack similar to Boston are so small they’re effectively zero.

Estimates vary, but the odds of being involved in a terrorist attack on a plane are around one in twenty million, meaning you’re several times more likely to win the lottery, and it’s far more likely that you’ll be hit by lightning.

You’re even more likely to be electrocuted by faulty Christmas tree lights, and thousands of times more likely to perish in a car crash.

Regardless of all that, September 11 is still one of the cheapest days to fly, and every year we surround those deadly Christmas trees with our children.

People I know who work in inner city skyscrapers admit to feeling a pang of panic if they hear a plane or helicopter passing nearby, even today.

Although they know the possibility is incredibly remote, a small part of them still braces for impact and wants to start towards the stairwell.

The problem is, numbers mean very little to humans. We’re not rational creatures. We’ve evolved to learn through stories and images, not statistics.

We see it on a screen, happening to someone from a similar background, doing something we’ve done before and we don’t just see them, we see ourselves.

The Boston Marathon footage could’ve been from any of the runs, walks, rides or triathlons held regularly around Australia – and I don’t know how you’d completely guard against something similar without cancelling all future events.

But worrying about terrorism at these events is pointless.

The truth is that the terrorists have countless options. Sporting events, public transport, shopping centres, beaches during the holidays.

Which means our opportunities for worrying about an attack are also countless.

We would end up spending so much time worrying, there would be no time for living.

Which is exactly what the terrorists want.

Although  I know how unlikely it is that something similar will happen the next time I’m doing an organised run, I’m sure as I approach the finish line, I’ll still be thinking about it.

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian currently touring the comedy walking tour, ‘2013 – When We Were Idiots’

Sydney Comedy Festival (May 7-11)

Brisbane Anywhere Theatre Festival (May 12-19)