Wednesday, 26 March 2008

A fall from a roof top

One Chinese definition of "schadenfreude" is " it is pleasant to see an old friend fall from a roof top."

I disagree. Having yesterday attended the funeral of a friend, who had fallen from his roof just before last Christmas whilst clearing the gutters of leaves ,I can say that there is nothing pleasant at all, just general shock and sadness that a very fit and popular man should be cut down in the prime of life.

Much more to the point is the realisation of how the low probability, high impact events can cause such disastrous consequences. Of course you may say that going up onto the roof is inherently dangerous and therefore the probability was not so low, but my friend, who had lived in the house for 30 years and had doubtless gone on to the roof every year to deal with the leaves, had not considered it a risky venture, confident as he was in his knowledge of the roof, which was not very high and of his own excellent balance and agility. He was a man, who having retired early from a large accountancy practice, had not the slightest interest in risk taking either financial or physical.

Because he did not see the risk as severe he went onto the roof unprepared - no harness, no one to stand at the bottom of the ladder and, most importantly, for it would have saved his life - no hard hat. I don't blame him, I have done the same many times, but I won't in future, for I have been made aware in a most terrible way of the perils of taking risk lightly at home, where we automatically assume that nothing bad can befall us. I tell this story in the hope that those who read it will think more positively of hard hats and wear them when appropriate.

Now if the Chinese had said " it is pleasant to see an arrogant hypocrite fall from the roof top" then I would have taken the roof top to be the metaphorical one which Mr. Spitzer fell off and joined in the clouds of schadenfreude wafting down Wall Street. But an arrogant hypocrite by definition does not equal a friend.

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