What If You're Right?
You may have heard the unhappy story of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis. Dr. Semmelweis was a surgeon in nineteenth-century Europe and is most often credited with the discovery that hand washing and sterilizing surgical instruments prior to contact with patients could greatly reduce the incidence of puerperal (childbirth) fever and other contagious illnesses that killed so many hospital patients (and others) in his day. Unfortunately, the doctor's peers and superiors, for the most part, weren't ready to hear what he had to say. Instead of being rewarded for this life-saving discovery, he received mostly criticism (although he did enjoy a modest amount of professional success in his lifetime) and died a miserable, premature death.
If you're old enough to remember the Watergate era, you have probably heard of Martha Mitchell, the late wife of John Mitchell, the U.S. attorney general under President Nixon. Mrs. Mitchell became famous, as the scandal unfolded, for telephoning reporters in the middle of the night with wild claims. She soon developed a reputation for instability. Rumors were leaked about her mental health and alcohol usage. But Martha Mitchell, of course, for all her apparent peculiarities, was right. Dirty doings really were going on at Democratic National Committee headquarters. Nixon later told TV interviewer David Frost that, without Martha Mitchell, “There'd have been no Watergate.”
“The Martha Mitchell effect” is a case in which a psychiatrist mistakes a sane but fantastical claim for delusion. The late author Robert Anton Wilson is said to have coined the phrase “the Semmelweis reflex” to refer to any idea that is rejected without even cursory exploration.
So… could you be right about some of the things or situations you fear? Sadly, yes. That is, some of the outcomes you worry about may be possible. Dogs do, on occasion, maul humans, planes do crash, bridges do collapse, and so on. The question to ask yourself, really, is not,
Few, if any, things are absolutely safe. Some are patently
If you know of an airline with a reputation for accidents, of course, it's perfectly sensible to refuse to fly on it. If you see that unsafe conditions exist in your town, or somewhere much larger, it's noble to call the right attention to them.
If you have OCD, chances are, you're not a quitter. You may shy away — or run away — from things that frighten you, but you probably also possess a great deal of perseverance. That can serve you well, in both personal and professional situations.
It's okay sometimes to worry about things you can change. If nobody did, you can be sure that nothing of any consequence would ever be achieved. There would be no safety commissions or procedures. Life would be more hazardous than it is. But … (you knew that was coming, right?) it is, as we say, a matter of degrees. You don't want your life to be one big worry, either.
When Bad Things Happen
Unfortunately, sooner or later the thing or things you worry about may happen. Not to you, necessarily, but to someone. And then, you might think,
We can't tell you, of course, how much worry is too much and how much is just right. (In fact, we don't know of anyone who