Editor’s column: Let’s get fear in perspective
Fear is a phantom. We fear that it — whatever it is — will happen, but in most instances, this is all in our heads.
Let’s separate bad things that inevitably happen in the course of life — illness, injury, financial loss or the death of a loved one — from things that we worry might happen. Most of our fear is focused on the latter.
When true crises emerge, we use our brains and brawn to escape the immediate peril and then develop a plan to move ahead.
For example, I experienced a few days of relentless panic when I was diagnosed with throat cancer six summers ago. The internet, it turned out, was not my friend on this. I went online seeking information and hope, but also encountered tales of horrible things that happened to some people with my condition. For a couple of days, I feared that I could die within the year.
Then I learned more about the treatment I would need and what I could do to weather the chemo and radiation. When a nurse told me that people who exercise moderately but regularly tolerate the treatment better, my mind flipped a switch from powerless inaction and worry to acceptance and determination — the mindset that enabled me to take action.
Exercising at least a little every day during my 50 days of treatment didn’t kill my cancer. But it did contribute to the overall process, and being an active participant helped me have faith that treatment would work.
Faith and action chase away the phantom.
Today in America, we are told every day to be afraid by those seeking political or financial gain.
Afraid of ISIS, afraid of armed nutbags, afraid of burglars, child molesters and the national debt.
These are all bad things. ISIS is a real danger in the world, and unstable people (let’s be honest here) with guns wreak random havoc with increasing frequency in towns large and small.
But these are theoretical dangers to us as individuals. Thinking too much about them can cause us to lose sight of the many blessings in our life and can tempt us to compromise our values to create the illusion of being safe from an improbable threat.
And, if we must fret about dangers in our life, these are the wrong things to worry about.
Our chances of being the victim of a terrorist attack or mass killing — from a Muslim extremist, a zealot such as Robert Dear or a lunatic such as James Holmes — are vastly less than dying in a car accident or bad weather.
Severe weather kills an average of about 550 Americans a year; in 2015, 38,000 people died on U.S. roads, 545 of them in Colorado.
Counting terrorism deaths on U.S. soil is tricky. Do we count Dear, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood attacker? Do we count Dylann Roof, the Charleston church killer? Or do we just count olive-skinned people who profess allegiance to Islamic terror groups?
If we count only the latter, the International Security Data Site says 94 people, including the 49 in Orlando earlier this month, have died in “violent jihadist attacks” on U.S. soil since 9/11.
Orlando and San Bernardino increased the toll of these attacks, and, distasteful as it is, government use of digital surveillance seems essential in identifying the Omar Mateens and Tashfeen Maliks among us. We as a country certainly dare not shrug this off, and, as much as Obama haters like to claim so, we are not by any stretch of the imagination.
But neither should we let it rule our lives or select our president any more than we should let the real fact that we share the road every day with impaired or just plain bad drivers keep us from going to work or the grocery store.
Through history, innocents have died because of the twisted workings of disturbed minds that always manufacture a justification.
While Wahhabism has fueled a spreading, murderous radicalism, this perverted view of Islam is not the first theology or philosophy that has been used to justify murder. The Crusaders and the Nazis come immediately to mind, but the list is much, much longer.
The Axis powers of World War II posed a traditional military threat; modern terrorism does not. Armies can gain apparent victories against ISIS on the battlefield — U.S.-backed Iraqis are retaking Fallujah, for example — but that doesn’t stop the spread of ideas and can’t stop a troubled man such as Mateen from cloaking his anger in an extremist flag.
It’s much easier to have a good idea of when a tornado or flood is coming than to know when a James Holmes or Omar Mateen might attack. The Second Amendment allows you to decide for yourself whether to pack heat against the potential of a tornado, but taking away the rights of all orange-haired white suburbanites or all Muslims is not the answer. We must not let the exceptions rule our lives.
Get fear in perspective. Almost all of us drive despite the clear and present danger involved.
Well, we have to drive, you might say.
We also must live, and we are wrong to let the craziest among us affect our freedom and values.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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