Posts Tagged ‘probability of death’

When acquaintances pass away

June 28, 2017

The bulk of those we “know” are acquaintances and they may number from several hundred and up to a few thousand.

If the Dunbar Number postulation is correct, we can have strong, stable, close relationships with about 150 people (minimum about 50 and maximum about 250). We  can also “feel” strong, one-way relationships with a few public figures we may never have met, and who may not even be aware of our existence (musicians, actors, politicians ….).

When somebody close passes away the measure of our grief and our reactions is dominated primarily by the closeness of the relationship and then by the circumstances surrounding the death. This has probably been much the same for humans through most of history. However it is our reaction to the passing away of acquaintances which may say more about our changing attitudes to life and death.

I am of an age now where hardly a week goes by without the passing away of an acquaintance. I am also of an age where new acquaintances come slowly. So my circle of acquaintances is beginning to reduce. Trying to observe myself, I would generalise my reactions to the death of an acquaintance as follows:

  • Less than 50 years old : Futility, cruel, tragically young
  • In their 50’s                   : Sorrow, regret, before their time
  • In their 60’s                   : Sadness, misfortune, not very old
  • In their 70’s                   : Regret, it happens, a good innings
  • In their 80’s                   : Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance
  • In their 90’s                   : Acceptance, celebration, a long span
  • In their 100’s                 : Wow! Was he/she still alive?

Of course the circumstances of a death also play some part in the reaction  – but not so much, it seems, once an acquaintance has passed 80. The same kind of tragic accident which takes the life of a 50 year old, seems not so tragic when an 80 year old is the victim. A few months ago a good acquaintance died in his 50’s following a bicycle accident, and it all seemed such a terrible waste. About a year ago an 83 year old acquaintance also died following a bicycle accident, but his death did not seem as tragic, and even included a hint of “what on earth was he doing on a bicycle at that age?”

I suppose it is because the probability of an 80 year old dying is so much higher than that of a 50 year old. Our sense of regret and loss reduces as the probability of death increases. The circumstances surrounding the death seem less important.

At 50 the probability of death is about 1: 300 but at the age of 80 this has increased to 1:20.

UK data image bandolier

Our reactions, I conclude, are probably strongly influenced by the probability of death of that acquaintance. As longevity changes, the probability of death changes, and our reactions follow suit.


 

 


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