Are we a nation addicted to fear?
An Invisibilia podcast entitled Fearless, confirmed some theories I had about current society being motivated by fear. You see, I used to be a copywriter and we were taught to appeal to both fear and greed to sell anything. Your fear might be that you’d die alone, poor, and unhip if you didn’t by an advertised product.
In the podcast, a social scientist decided to watch children and document their activities in the mid-seventies. What he wanted to know was what kids do when adults weren’t around. Where did they go? What did they talk about? He showed up in a small-town America and explained his intentions. Surprisingly, everyone was okay with it. He found most of the children in town by age ten could run the length and breadth of the town with warnings to be home for supper or back before dark.
In one of his recordings, he tapes five-year-old boys in the woods making fart sounds and laughing wildly about their antics. No big surprise there, instead the surprise came when he went back and interviewed one of the boys who was now a man and had daughters of his own. He didn’t allow his children to go anywhere outside their yard. His reasoning was that a stranger would abduct his children.
This fear that the father felt was not borne out by actual crime statistics. The sleepy little town remained sleepy and their crime wave consisted of knocked over mail boxes and the occasional burning bag of dog poo. In fact, crime is lower than it has been in decades. You wouldn’t think so if you tuned into any of the 24/7 news stations. Their job is to frighten you and apparently, it is working.
Many people are terrified to travel outside their local area. They hear tales about serial killers and drug crazed fiends, not to mention zombies. People who allow their children to walk to school are being reported to social services by their neighbors for doing so. Is the world more dangerous than it was in the 70s?
Most of us would say yes. It isn’t. There are some very dangerous places. Check out this list for places not to go. Life is not an action-packed movie starring Liam Neeson. We watch news tabloids to police dramas and mistakenly believe the crime rate is much higher than it is. Two of my favorites shows were Bones and NCIS, which both are set in Washington, DC. where my stepdaughter worked. The closest encounter she had with the criminal element was her office was in the former Watergate hotel.
As for me, even though I do write mystery novels and do research crimes, I haven’t been a crime victim. I’ve been in countries all around the world and with my poor sense of direction often lost in the exotic locales. Our school’s crime spree consisted of someone stealing teachers’ lunches out of the staff fridge. We assumed it was a student, but the thefts stopped when a coach took a job elsewhere.
The fact that the coach was someone we knew and talked to everyday wasn't unusual. When crime does happen, it isn’t a stranger, but possibly someone we know. Most people are killed by spouses, ex-spouses, former lovers, employees or even their own children. They are robbed by former lovers, children, ex-spouses, and neighbors. I think you get the picture. What usually doesn’t happen is we are attacked by complete strangers, but strangers are what we fear most.
On the playground, a young student asked me why he had to play on the pavement instead on the grass and in the surrounding woods. The standard answer was that he might get hurt in the woods.
I grew up roaming the woods, even picking up snakes, and wading in the creek. I rode horses bareback, climbed trees, and jumped from the hayloft. The only bones I ever broke was falling down the stairs as an adult. Those experiences taught me to be alert for everything from speeding cars to water moccasins. It also instilled in me a sense of independence and confidence.
At times, I worry we are becoming a nation addicted to fear. When I mention taking a hot air balloon ride or using a zipline, a half dozen people will have some horror tale about someone they never met or possibly never existed dying in a horrific manner doing the very same activity.
Is fear controlling your life? Think what it would be like to live fearlessly.