The Fear Epidemic

Fear is the root of all evilFear is destroying our lives. There are some that say that money is the root of all evil.  If that is true, fear plays a close second fiddle. It’s crushing our society, our children and our families. It’s one of the most debilitating problems in the 21st century.

There are many who would argue that drugs, sexuality, crime, abortion and many other issues are more destructive to our society.  However, there is nothing more socially acceptable, yet so destructive as fear.  This isn’t the fear generated from horror shows, but fear of the unknown and the possibility of tragedy.

Let’s take a quick quiz.

  • What do you think of when you hear of a child being backed over in a driveway?
  • When you hear of a child being kidnapped from a neighborhood park, what are your first thoughts?
  • Do you let your kids play at the neighbor’s house or do you have to know what they are doing all the time?
  • Do your kids play by themselves in the tub or do you require constant supervision?

The typical response to most of these situations is a result of fear.  We don’t let our kids play in the front yard, or go to the park unsupervised. Our kids are forced to stay at home or have their friends come over to our home.  And “a child can drown in 2 inches of water” forces us to constantly watch our children as they bathe.

These are just a few examples of situations that society has accepted as a valid fear and valid response.  But when we break it down, what are the chances of these tragedies happening in our lives?  You are more likely to get struck by lightning.  If we used the same philosophy, we would never drive or ride in a car as, statistically speaking, it is one of the deadliest activities.

This is not to minimize the complete and utter tragedy that these events are in the lives of the families and communities in which they occur.  They are devastating.  And that is the justification we use to “protect” our loved ones from “taking those risks.”  We tell ourselves that we are just trying to protect them from having such terrible things happen to them.  In reality, we are being incredibly selfish.  We are protecting ourselves from the pain that such incidences will cause in our own lives and we are causing drastic and irreversible phycological damage to our kids.

Are we truly helping our kids by providing constant supervision when they go play at the park with their friends?  Or are we hurting them?  According to a recent study in child behavior we are seriously damaging our children’s abilities to function properly in society.

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

How does it affect us?

Fear is the “Great Debilitator” in American society.  If we search through history (even modern day), one of the great tools of ruthless dictators is fear.  Many good men didn’t speak out against something they knew to be wrong because they feared the repercussions from whom- or whatever.  There are literally thousands of examples of this from the good white people of the South during the Civil Rights Movement to the good Iraqi people who suffered such great oppression under the reign of Saddam Husein.

But in our society, it’s not as blatant. There isn’t an evil dictator or an obvious evil like slavery or racism.  We are the evil.  We are the ones who let the “what if” questions make us become over-protective.  “What if my child was taken by the neighborhood pedophile?”  “What if little Johnny forgets to look both ways before he crosses the street?”  Do we allow the fear of RSV prevent us from going into the world for 6 months with an infant?

This isn’t just something that affects our children either.  What about the way we react to our own medical problems?  “What if I don’t get that pain checked out and it turns out to be cancer?”  The fear doesn’t just debilitate our children, but ourselves as well.  Even if we consciously protect our kids and only allow it to affect ourselves, our children learn from us how to react in those types of situations.  So no matter how we try to prevent it from affecting them, if we allow it to affect us, we are in turn allowing it to affect them.

Fear in itself isn’t a bad thing.  Fear is a normal and practical response when confronted with a scary or life threatening situation.  It’s when we allow fear to be present when we are not immediately confronted with such situations that it becomes enfeebling.  When fear outweighs logical response, it becomes dangerous to our psychological well being.

Who is to blame?

So who is to blame for this epidemic?  In the end, we are.  As a society, we are responsible for allowing such prohibiting thought to become mainstream.  But there is a consistent avenue through which fear is delivered into our homes and minds.  Like many things in the 21st century, technology is to blame for our problems. With the benefits of technology, comes vast amounts of information.

The political landscape of today also greatly contributes to social fears.  With political candidates desire to separate themselves from the other candidate (with which they often have far more similarities than they admit), they create fear and doubt about the other’s abilities to resolve problems and contain tragedy.  In doing do, they demonize both/all candidates and so regardless of who eventually wins, the people continue to believe that destruction follows.

Any good sales representative will tell you that the first step to making a sales it to create a need for the product for sale.  One of the best ways to create that need is with fear.  Pest controls sales reps feed on the fear of bugs causing illness.  The same fear is uses to sell household disinfectants.

And with the all too typical “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality of news organizations, we get a lot of negative and fear causing information.  Whether they are knowingly causing long lasting fear and panic, the mass media of today is one of the major contributors to the fear epidemic.

Some might call the media fear-mongers and probably rightly so, but placing blame on the media isn’t the answer to solving the problem.

What to do

How do we protect ourselves from falling into the fear trap.  Do we stop the flow of information into our homes?  Can we withstand the onslaught of tragic stories and information coming through the TV, radio, Internet, and newspaper?  Each individual has to make the decision for themselves.  But society has to make a decision as a whole that we will not allow fear to rule our lives.  Fear needs to become a taboo rather than the norm.

How can we make positive thinking the normal societal response to tragic stories?  Wouldn’t it be great if when we hear of a tragedy, we first express compassion for those feeling pain and then count our blessings that it wasn’t a member of our family or community. Perhaps we can try to find a solution to prevent the same tragedy from happening in the future.  Not through restriction, but through other means such as technology or education.  The response we give in such situations not only determines how we live our lives, but also how our children learn to deal with tragedy and adversity.

Let’s help them learn to live their lives with hope and joy.  With a solid understanding of the possiblities of tragedy, but yet the realization that even after tragedy life goes on. For in those few moments after we hear of serious tragedy, we learn the true meaning of our own faith (whether in a higher power or a human adaptability).

How do you react to tragedy?

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2 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    I know you think I make everything political, so in the spirit of not disappointing . . . .

    The Bush administration, since 9/11, has been all about fear. From the Federalist Papers #8 by Alexander Hamilton:
    “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war [terrorist attacks], the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger [color-coded threat levels], will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to (standing armies and the correspondent appendages of military establishments [NSA, FBI, CIA, Patriot Act]) which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”

    Why do the people of the U.S. need to be reminded every day that the threat level is “orange”? Are people going to be more likely to report suspicious behavior, packages, or persons? Or is it to keep us all so scared that we will abandon our common sense and give complete control to the “experts” who then use that control to augment their money and power?

    I think it’s time we stopped renting space in our heads to the fearmongers.

  2. Reluctant says:

    I don’t mind you saying that, but it’s not just the one side. As I mentioned, ALL politicians play the fear game.

    There is just as much evidence of human caused global warming as there was for WMD. Fear is one of the best tools for an unscrupulous individual/group to “squeeze something past” the public.

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