Fear Itself

Someone robbed a bank within a mile or two of my kids’ elementary school the other day and the school had a soft lockdown. Apart from not being able to go outside for recess, the soft lockdown barely changed their day. The teachers closed classroom doors but visitors were still allowed to sign in at the front desk. And I was okay with that.

On a side note, bank robberies have been around for a long time. I’m a little surprised we haven’t come up with a way to prevent them. Then again, there are always trade-offs to added security and maybe the banks are willing to put up with robberies in the same way that credit card companies are okay with some identity theft because they want to make it as easy as possible for people to spend money. And it could be worse.

A bank robbery with no violence is not all that bad compared to other crimes. It’s not your money being stolen. The insurance company pays for the loss and if the actuaries did their job, the robbery was accounted for in the bank’s insurance premiums. If not, a bank may choose to pass the increased premiums to customers. So of course I’m not condoning bank robberies, but if I had a choice, it would come out above plenty of other crimes, especially those including violence.

The part I found most interesting was people’s reactions to the news of the bank robbery. When I heard about it I was disappointed, but it wasn’t a big deal. Some, however, felt it confirmed our society is falling apart and crime is running rampant. But that conclusion isn’t supported by the facts. As a whole, violent crime has been decreasing since colonial times. It peaked in the early 1990s, and has dropped steeply since then. The Verge just wrote about the decline of serial killers.

We also have a tendency to vilify the present and romanticize the past, but the facts again contradict that viewpoint. In short, the world isn’t swirling down the toilet, no matter how much religious zealots want you to believe otherwise. It may seem that way because of our hyper-awareness of information, where a tornado on the other side of the world has eye witnesses posting on Twitter seconds after it touches down. Compare that to the citizens of Great Britain learning of America’s declaration of independence almost a month and a half later.

Crime will never go away entirely, just as illness, death and taxes. And no matter how safe you think your town or neighborhood is, criminals have cars and can travel to your small, safe or gated community if they choose to. But fear is not the answer. Holing up in your home, afraid for the safety of your children is no way to live. It’s also no way to teach your children to deal with the uncertainties of life.

When Mr. Rogers was a boy and saw scary things in the news, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our personal liberties (and air travel) is far greater than the attack itself. By giving into our fears, we’ve paid a huge price. In TV interviews after the 2005 London bombings I was impressed by their attitude of defiance. It reminded me of a kid being knocked down by a schoolyard bully, then jumping back up to face him (or her).

Fear is never the answer. I know it’s turned into a cliché, but the reason FDR’s quote is so well known is because it’s so true. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” There’s only one way to get rid of fear, and that is to take action. To Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.

Next time you see something scary on the news, look for the helpers, or better yet, do something. Find out how you can help, even if it’s unrelated to the event. Helping will make you feel better and remind you that the helpers vastly outnumber those doing harm.


 (Post a comment) | Comments RSS feed
  1. Amen. I’ve had the same feelings at least since the Govt. went overboard with airport security after 9/11. They bred fear into a critical mass of the population allowing them to intrude into peoples’ lives. Politically, they then had to show they were doing something to fight the problem, even if it was ineffective, intrusive bag checks.

    There are always going to be criminals, and not all of them are dumb. A smart criminal or terrorist will still be able to get through our walls and facades of security.

    Comment by Cameron on September 24, 2013 @ 11:17 am
  2. Oh man, don’t get me started :) The NSA and its ilk are only reactive, banning things after they’ve already been used, instead of preventing. It just means the criminals or would be terrorists will continue to come up with new ways to get past security.

    And airport security as a whole is nothing but security theater. It does far more to annoy travelers than stop terrorism. I read about a guy who accidentally brought a gun on his carry on, not discovering it was in his bag until he arrived at his destination. Whoops!

    Comment by Dan on September 24, 2013 @ 10:17 pm

Comments are closed