Maybe We Know Too Much

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The world sure seems to be a scary place. In the news this week I’ve read about 13-year-olds shooting 10-year-olds, police officers being shot, an increase in sexual assaults reported in the military, a Chicago cathedral being robbed, another news luminary being accused of sexual harassment, and the fact that security at the local mall has been scanning my license plate when I park there. Last week a horrific accident on a Southwest Airlines flight caused the death of a woman and served to terrify the countless Americans who are already afraid of flying. Americans recently learned about a deranged man shooting up a Waffle House in Tennessee and a different killer driving his van into a crowd in Toronto, Canada.

Not only is the steady stream of bad news demoralizing, but it gives us a skewed impression of the risks we face in daily life. As much as I’m appalled by gun violence and want to see common sense gun legislation enacted, the vast majority of Americans are much more likely to die in a car accident or from heart disease than by being shot. The statistics are worse for children, however, in that gun violence is now the third leading cause of death in America. Nevertheless, children also are more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident, and yet how many people take pause before strapping their kids in and taking off in a car?

As scared as we all are of terrorism, the individual risk of being killed by a terrorist in America is statistically insignificant. The same is true of airplane fatalities. Yet we obsess about such fears while downing our Big Mac, fries, and large Coke, despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.

The internet and social media have only made this problem worse. In the past, a person would hear or read about news of national significance and possibly incidents in their own city or town. But nowadays we see articles about crimes and mishaps all across the country and even the world, despite the fact that those incidents are unlikely to have much impact upon our lives – except to scare us.

One of my favorite movies as a child was The Man Who Knew Too Much with Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart. It was a thriller about an ordinary family who unwittingly witness an assassination, which puts their lives in peril. Well, I feel like the woman who knows too much, and it’s stressing me out. No doubt the stress will kill me and not the horrifying events I’m unfortunately privy to on a daily basis.

 

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No News Is Good News

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My daughter is on spring break this week, so we are enjoying the beautiful weather in sunny Florida. Yesterday, we spent the entire day at a theme park, away from real life and immersed in the fantasy worlds of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and King Kong. So it was jarring to come back to the condo and hear the news emanating from our television set.

When I am away, especially in a relaxing place like Florida, I forget about the outside world. The daily newspaper doesn’t arrive here, and I’m not in my regular routine. Instead, I am slathering myself with sunscreen and hitting the beach or pool with a water bottle and a good book. It’s a great, albeit temporary, existence.

My husband the news junkie never likes to be far away from the world’s events, so I make a conscious effort to avoid the TV and tune out the radio in order to take a break from the news. As much as I care about what is happening in my country and in the world, I sometimes need to get away from the constant strife that is the bread and butter of journalism. After all, I’m not the president, so I don’t need to deal directly with any major crisis that might occur.

Taking a break from ordinary life is restorative. Here I don’t have my mountains of paperwork, house to manage, school schedule to monitor. Relationship drama and family squabbles seem very far away. My biggest decision is what to choose from the restaurant menu. I am separated from home by a time zone, but more importantly, from a mental and emotional zone that, short of a life-threatening crisis, I can choose to ignore for a little while.

Still, there’s no place like home. After a week of lounging in la la land, I will start missing my bed, my neighborhood, my friends, the routine that grounds me, the news that sparks ideas for my writing. But for now, no news is the best news of all.

 

To Hell in a Hand Basket?

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The news these days can really get a person down. I am talking some serious hand-wringing. Just this morning while watching TV news, my husband remarked, “The world’s going to Hell in a hand basket.”

To be sure, reports on ISIS alone – what with all their threats, beheadings, and enslavement of women – are enough to give one pause. Add to that the Ebola scare, unrest in Hong Kong, and Russian incursions into Ukraine, and it can be hard to sleep at night.

Yet I hesitate to agree with the doomsayers. Although things seem really bad right now, they have certainly been worse. The two World Wars of the 20th Century were horrific conflagrations that involved virtually the entire planet. And let’s not forget the horrors of slavery, the ethnic cleansings, and the atrocities committed in the name of patriotism or religion over the past centuries.

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune‘s retrospective featured the year 1968. During that one year, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed, leading to widespread riots. The Vietnam War raged and took the lives of thousands of Americans. There was unrest at the Democratic National Convention, and the homicide rate in America was nearly 50 percent higher than it is today. The U.S. even lost a nuclear bomb!

Every era has its share of dangerous and horrifying situations. I am currently reading a novel set during the time of the terrible Spanish flu, which claimed nearly 50 million lives (flu.gov). We have gotten through the Cold War, during which time the only thing that saved the planet was mutually assured destruction from the thousands of nuclear warheads possessed by the major super powers. And how about those Dark Ages?

I am not trying to minimize the real seriousness of world events. I can’t be totally sanguine while people are in danger of torture, murder, enslavement, or succumbing to a deadly virus. At the same time, for many people, life has never been better. People are living longer, and medical science continues to develop ways to promote health and prolong life. Technology has made many lives easier as well with labor-saving devices and safer equipment.

As journalist Daniel Gardner says in his fascinating book The Science of Fear,  “We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.” (source:goodreads.com)

I think what we need is a balance, so that instead of feeling afraid and helpless, we take reasonable steps to protect ourselves. We also need to remind ourselves of all the good things in life.

That tumultuous year 1968? Well, that was the year “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” premiered. Goodbye, neighbor.