Today’s headlines on my social media include articles about the fellow in Texas who died of Ebola, a woman who was assaulted by a jumpy police officer during a stop over a seatbelt violation, and several other choice stories. What they had in common was the fact that we live in a society of constant fear- fear of each other, fear of animals, fear of nature, fear of germs, fear of everything. We know that this fear is bad for us, making us more prone to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, obesity, and many other health problems. We also probably know that our fears are not actually warranted most days. In the city of Denver, population 4+ million people, only a tiny handful of these people are assaulted, let alone murdered, and generally these cases are not strangers attacking the victim, but friends, family and acquaintances. Most children in Denver, or in the world for that matter, are never kidnapped. Most human beings in Africa never get Ebola, and only couple people in the entire rest of the world have contracted Ebola to our knowledge even though this germ has been around for many decades.
The problems in the US with police officers turning on the very people they are sworn to protect, attacking and even killing them for being Black or for making the officer nervous in any way, these problems are a symptom of our fear-laced world. The fact that children are stuck indoors most of their childhoods now in the US because their parents are too afraid of what might happen if their kids played outside without being watched constantly may lead to a bizarre new set of psychological issues and dependencies as these kids become legal adults without ever learning how to survive without Mom or Dad watching 24/7.
In the neighborhood around my local library there are no benches, even though the library is just across the street from a large apartment complex for the elderly. Why are there no benches? Because our community is so afraid of homeless people, poor people, unemployed people and teenagers that it would rather take away benches for everyone rather than offer nice comfortable places to sit for everyone including the ‘less welcome’ members of our community. The fact that the library backs against a large park just means that there are also no benches of any sort in the park except on the far end where library patrons are unlikely to stray. Our park has only the lame, ‘safe’, boring play equipment that almost no kids ever play on, equipment sized to exclude most school-aged kids, and with the only park benches arrayed in a circle around the play equipment so that adults accompanying their kids can watch those kids like a hawk at all times. All the fantastic play equipment, including the big yellow slide that was big enough to allow parents to slide down with their kids, is gone now, even though the parents must remember their own childhoods when that old ‘unsafe’ equipment was part of what made it fun to go to the park in the first place.
How can we stop our descent into helplessness and crippling terror of our own lives and everything within them? By refusing to let fear rule our lives. The solution cannot be imposed from on high- asking the authorities to fix things for us is part of the problem. We are fully capable of chosing not to be afraid. Most of our neighbors are good people, nice people who are trying to do the best they can with what they have. Most strangers we see in public are also good people- even the homeless people, poor people, unemployed people and teenagers tend to be good people, just trying to do the best they can with what they have. If we make sure we know each other, by meeting our neighbors and making friends with strangers, we can eliminate most people from our ‘scary unknowns to fear’ lists and focus on the people and things that we need to be concerned about.
And how do we keep from being sucked into fears about things like Ebola? By choosing not to be afraid of them. We have to relearn how to evaluate threats. In our world of mass media covering the whole globe, we lose perspective about what directly threatens us. In fact, the local politics, environmental issues and other concerns tend never to show up on the news because those issues don’t draw enough advertising interest, so we usually see a lot of stories about things that are happening somewhere else, sensational stories that are calculated to make us afraid but that do not represent significant threats to us otherwise.