Since the events of 9/11, we in the western world have become more and more obsessed with security, imagining that if we build a better body scanner or a higher fence, somehow we will be more protected. The craziness we have to experience going through security at an airport these days has become ridiculous. At Laguardia airport on our family's return trip from New York a couple of years ago, there was a particularly cranky security guy yelling at the passenger ahead of me about his laptop. I couldn't understand what the guard was saying, and when it came my turn, he scowled the same thing at me. I froze, he had a southern accent and my ear just couldn't grasp the words...my daughter whispered in my ear "He wants you to take the laptop OUT of the bag!" and I managed to do what he demanded before I got into more trouble. He scowled again at me as I passed him. Why should anyone have that kind of miserable power over anyone? And yet, I wouldn't have dared confront him...who knows what kind of trouble that would have brought me.
And on my recent return trip from Maui, I was pull out of line by a security officer who wanted to wipe my hands with something. I realized they were checking for explosives and the wipe was to detect chemicals on my hands. I guess he picked me because I didn't look suspicious enough? After that it was off with the shoes, remove your outer clothing, walk through the scanner or have someone scan your body with that Star Wars wand. Or, worse yet, someone will feel you up physically, and by the time you get on the plane, you feel dirty enough to want to take a shower. And this is all for what?
The truth is that there will never be enough security for some people. I have a family member who bolts her front door twice, each time she comes in or out, even when she's just bringing out her garbage. She cuts her return address off all mailing envelopes she recycles, and tells me I should never get a vanity license plate for my car because "they'll be able to find you!" She's elderly, so I imagine that has a lot to do with it. But for somebody like that, the world is a scary place and anyone you don't know could be out to get you. Maybe I'll feel the same way when I'm her age, but I hope not.
Maybe part of the problem is that we watch or listen to or read too much news, or we pay too much attention to "experts" who usually have some vested interest in scaring the bejesus out of us. But ultimately, fear is something we do to ourselves.
The recent earthquake in Japan did a lot to invoke fear, especially for those of us living here on the west coast of North America. First of all, there was the fear of a tsunami here, although it never really manifested. Secondly, we watched the same loops of video over and over of the disastrous effects of not only the earthquake, but the resulting tsunami there in Japan, knowing full well it can and will happen here one of these days. And then it was the fear of radiation spewing from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. On the local news here, they were interviewing people on the street who had already bought a supply of iodine tablets! Worrying about the possibility of heightened radiation levels I can understand. Some of us still have visions and memories of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. But to be running about buying iodine tablets, seems to me, another sign of out of control fear and fear mongering.
I understand fear very well. It is not rational and it can be all consuming. And we certainly don't want to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to the realities around us, like madmen who want to kill all westerners and living close to fault lines in the earth's crust. But let's do a little self-check and make sure we are not allowing fear to rule our daily existence. What is the point and even the usefulness of that? It simply leads to many nights of sleeplessness and days of bizarre behaviour.
One of the most famous lines came from Franklin D. Roosevelt (and often mistakenly attributed to Churchill) in his first inaugural address is "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself---nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance". And here are some other good and hopeful quotes regarding fear, some of them from those who knew a lot about the topic!
- Fear is the lengthened shadow of ignorance. ~Arnold Glasow
- To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another. ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved
- To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. ~Bertrand Russell
- Fear cannot take what you do not give it. ~Christopher Coan
- A cheerful frame of mind, reinforced by relaxation... is the medicine that puts all ghosts of fear on the run. ~George Matthew Adams
- Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is. ~German Proverb
- Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death. ~Author Unknown
- You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith. ~Mary Manin Morrissey
- We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.