Turning Hysteria into Sanity

A Nation of Hysterics

by Paul Campos

Lenore Skenazy, a columnist for The New York Sun, caused quite a stir earlier this month when she wrote about letting her 9-year-old son take a subway and bus by himself across Manhattan. The boy had been begging her to allow him to test his big city commuting skills on his own, and she finally agreed, handing him a map, a subway token, some quarters, and a $20 bill.

She didn’t give him her cell phone, nor did she secretly tail him as he sallied forth across Gotham alone.

Published on Wednesday, April 30, 2008 by The Rocky Mountain News (Colorado)

Life Dance

A Nation of Hysterics

by Paul Campos

Lenore Skenazy, a columnist for The New York Sun, caused quite a stir earlier this month when she wrote about letting her 9-year-old son take a subway and bus by himself across Manhattan. The boy had been begging her to allow him to test his big city commuting skills on his own, and she finally agreed, handing him a map, a subway token, some quarters, and a $20 bill.

She didn’t give him her cell phone, nor did she secretly tail him as he sallied forth across Gotham alone.

Within days Skenazy was on various television news programs, explaining why she was not, contrary to the opinion of many commentators, America’s Worst Mother.

Skenazy pointed out that for a child to be abducted by a stranger is literally a one-in-a-million event (there were about 115 such abductions in the U.S. in 2006, of which about 50 resulted in the child’s death. There are about 75 million children in America).

She emphasized that New York is a very safe city, with the same crime rate as Boise, Idaho. And she insisted that not allowing children to go anywhere without adult supervision is bad both for the children themselves, and for parents who give free rein to their neurotic obsessions with risk and safety.

These are excellent points, and reminded me of something a friend told me recently. She lives in an upscale Denver neighborhood, with her husband and two small children.

Another of the neighborhood’s young mothers (needless to say discussions of this topic always focus on the responsibilities of mothers, as opposed to parents) had asked her if she had checked the Internet to confirm the precise location of the neighborhood’s registered sex offenders.

My friend had not, but she soon realized that failing to do so could well mark her as a negligent mom among her hyper vigilant peers. And of course by doing so her own anxiety level regarding her children’s safety was raised, even though at a rational level she realizes (she’s a lawyer) that a sex offender address registry doesn’t tell you much of anything about actual risk.

All this reflects a more general problem: the many cultural and political forces pushing us to behave like a nation of hysterics.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the typical American suburb is just about the safest place that has ever existed in the history of the world — yet it’s full of terrified people.

Statistics have little power in the face of a media environment in which extraordinarily rare events, such as strangers kidnapping children, are presented as commonplace by profit-hungry “news” outlets, for whom the bottom line is that fear sells.

Politicians realize this too. The ongoing overreaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks is only the most vivid example of how our leaders cynically exploit our fears by making wildly exaggerated claims, such as that Islamic terrorism poses an “existential threat” to America.

Indeed, the reactions to Skenazy’s column are a nice example of how the personal is political, and vice versa. Skenazy notes that one acquaintance told her that he requires his daughter to call home after she has walked the one block to her friend’s house, even though they live in a typically crime-free suburb.

Other parents informed her they don’t allow their children to walk alone to the mailbox.

This kind of thing encourages children to see the world in fear-ridden terms, and to grow up to become the sort of people more interested in having their government protect them from largely imaginary threats than in preserving their civil liberties.

At this point, we should be more afraid of having our children stolen from us by Republicans than by kidnappers.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at paul.campos@colorado.edu.

© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.

My response to Paul’s article. – Pete

Hi Paul,

Glad to see someone pointing out the insanity of unnatural fear. Natural fear is considered to be a healthy response to an immediate threat while unnatural fear, or chronic anxiety, is considered to be an unhealthy response to imagined or potential threats. As we observe population density and social unrest increase, is it unnatural for us to feel more concern about the safety and well being of ourselves and families? This response seems quite natural to me. What makes our reaction unnatural, or unhealthy, is the failure for us  to develop appropriate responses to the new conditions we find ourselves in. In other words, if we feel threatened by conditions that are vague or hard to put a finger on, or conditions that are so large, we feel helpless before them, like population density and social unrest, we still need to respond to them in a meaningful way. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves to a life of slow roasting in our own oven of fear and free floating anxiety.

There are many ways to deal with larger forms of fear like overpopulation and social unrest that require complex solutions. And there are many ways not to deal with them. One way not to deal with them is to listen ideas like, “Don’t ever, never, ever, speak to strangers!” (Approximate quote from undercover cop to Kindergartners in the movie, Kindergarten Cop.) This is a popular approach to dealing with parental fear for the safety and well being of children. What isn’t considered is the cost to our children and humanity in not developing and trusting our intuitive abilities. We can sense danger intuitively as well as read signs of danger with our eyes and ears. By mindlessly reacting to one another with predetermined reaction patterns, we become mechanical and fail to understand and develop abilities we are born with.

Value of an Idea

Are we here to learn how to dance with the consciousness and energy of All That Is, or are we here to exist at any cost? Answering this question one way creates a life of learning, optimism and joy; and answering it the other way, creates a life of pain, suffering and violence. We create our reality by default (passive acceptance of unchallenged, external values) or conscious creation (the thoughtful development of positive, constructive values).

How we define ourselves and the world around us forms our intent, which in turn, forms our reality.

To take control of our lives we need to ask questions that enable us to replace thoughts that dis-empower us with thoughts that empower us. The first question we need to ask is, what’s going to work best for ALL of us; in personal terms, and in terms of business, education, the environment and peace? Here are some other questions we can ask ourselves in response to, What’s going to work best for ALL of us?:

  • To love ourselves or hate ourselves?
  • To believe in ourselves or not believe in ourselves?
  • To trust ourselves or not trust ourselves?
  • To believe we’re basically good or basically bad?
  • To see ourselves as separate and in competition with one another (Law of the Jungle) or as One, separate and sharing (Law of Love and Cooperation)?
  • To be conscious creators of our reality (create internal, self-regulated value systems) or passive victims of it (rely on established, externally regulated value systems)?

These are just a few questions we can ask ourselves to move beyond negative and limiting cultural and family values. There are those who subscribe to the Law of the Jungle (survival of the fittest, eat or be eaten, kill or be killed) as a model for survival, and those who subscribe to the Law of Love and Cooperation (the way our bodies work) as a model for survival. Today’s world is dominated by belief in separation and scarcity, the Law of the Jungle; not oneness and sharing, the Law of Love and Cooperation. Switching from one to the other would go a long way in bringing sanity and peace to the world.

,

Pete – http://diaryofamystic.com

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The 21st century serves as a natural timeframe for building a dream, a vehicle for life in the New Millennium that will help transport mankind through the next 1,000 years in peace and safety.

Visit The LifeSong Store where the world comes to shop for inspirational and life-changing ideas on T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, hoodies and more. Change the world for the better with POTS! (Philosophy On T-Shirts)

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