Today, she asks: “What do you wish to tell the world?”
My answer: I wish to tell them that they don’t need to be afraid.
Fear is one of the most powerful forces within the human psyche. Danger surrounds. Adrenaline pumps. The rational mind shuts down. It’s fight or flight, extinction or survival. God created us with the fear instinct for our own self-preservation.
And what’s more, we prioritize fear over pleasure. That is, if both instincts are aroused simultaneously, fear wins out. This works out very well in the wild. Let’s say you kill a gazelle and are ready to dine, and a hungry lion discovers the food you have laid out before you. That food may be rightfully yours, but are you going to argue with the lion? Hell no! And your instincts help you do the right thing in this instance, because you know that the lion is bigger than you and stronger than you and maybe hungrier than you, and it would have no compunctions about tearing you to shreds in order to get first dibs on your dinner. So like a whimpering hyena, you step back and let the lion eat its fill, and only then do you pick off what’s left.
We instinctively are always watching for danger, always ready to respond. And today’s “dangers,” as it were, attack us constantly. Rush-hour traffic on the way to work. The boss’s withering stare. A bounced check. Politicians who expertly prey on our fears in order to get us to vote one way or another. News editors who terrify us with dramatic stories of crime and disaster. Even ad writers who evoke fear in order to sell products.
And this excess fear can make us paranoid and cause us to overreact, even when we are not truly in danger. No wonder that people guard their pre-teen children as though they were toddlers, refusing to let them grow in responsibility and independence, even though our society in the US is now safer than it’s ever been before. As Lenore Skenazy (the journalist and author who let her 9-year-old son ride on the New York subway by himself) pointed out in a recent blog post:
If you, for some strange reason, WANTED your child to be KIDNAPPED AND HELD OVERNIGHT BY A STRANGER, HOW LONG WOULD YOU HAVE TO LEAVE HIM OR HER OUTSIDE, ALONE AND UNSUPERVISED HERE IN AMERICA, FOR THIS TO BE STATISTICALLY LIKELY TO HAPPEN?
The answer, crunched for me by Warwick Cairns, author of How to Live Dangerously is this: 750,000 years.
Recently, I went out for an extended walk. I stayed out long past nightfall. I later learned that my wife was afraid I might have been attacked by someone, a stranger. But if it’s that unlikely that a kid would be kidnapped, how much more unlikely an adult male?
And this level of fear is unhealthy. It causes stress and can produce hypertension, headache, fatigue, depression, and even psychosis.
Fear makes us do crazy things and think crazy things. George W. Bush’s approval rating went up faster than had any other president’s, in September 2001. And many Americans gladly supported going to war, and then enthusiastically continued to “support the troops,” simply because they needed to feel safe—even though warrior aggression almost always produces more enemies than it does friends, thus making us less safe. But that doesn’t matter, because we need to feel like there’s a protector for our fears, and we don’t have the faith to trust God to do it.
The good news is that we need not live in fear.
With simple rules that we teach all our kids, children are safer now than ever before. They are 4 times more likely to die of heart disease and 17 times more likely to commit suicide than they are to be abducted by a stranger.
Schools are safer than every before. As much as I hate the government school system, the fact is that kids are 50 times more likely to be murdered out of school than in school, and 150 times more likely to commit suicide.
Crime rates are lower now than they’ve been since the beginning of drug prohibition. Even through the crime scare of the 1990’s, actual crime rates continued to decline.
You are more likely to be killed by lightning than by a terrorist attack, and much more likely to be killed in a car accident. In 2004, John Mueller of the Cato Institute examined the damage caused by terrorism. He concluded that “terrorism generally does not do much damage” and that “the costs of terrorism very often are the result of hasty, ill-considered, and over-wrought reactions.”
People drink bottled water because they’re afraid of contaminants, but the truth is that our tap water in the US is cleaner than it’s ever been, and it’s almost always cleaner than bottled water (according to a report by the National Resources Defense Council), because bottled water is usually stored at room temperature without any antiseptic agent, giving the bacteria in it a chance to grow.
We’re afraid of destroying our environment, but the truth is that our environment is plenty clean and getting cleaner. The ozone hole has even stopped growing and has begun to shrink, as of 1997. (That’s over a decade ago!) In other words, we’ve already effectively won that battle.
Everyone’s worried about healthcare, but the truth is that we’re living longer now than ever before and that more people are getting better healthcare than ever before. We complain about high healthcare costs, but ironically, those problems are caused more by our alarmist reaction to healthcare issues than by any actual problems.
Everyone’s worried about the economy, but the truth is that even if we entered a depression, our standard of living would still be many times better than during the Great Depression. Late in 2008, in one survey, people were asked what they would give up in a recession, and the general consensus (as I recall) was: “I might go out to eat less often, but I ain’t gonna give up my Internet!” Look, they couldn’t even imagine the Internet in the 1920’s!
The apostle John wrote, “Perfect love drives out fear.” He of course was talking about fear of God and fear of each other. Sometimes I think we are afraid we’re about to be punished by God, maybe because we’ve enjoyed life too much. Or we’re afraid of all the people we don’t know, who may not have “perfect love.” But—I assure you—God will not punish you for enjoying life. On the contrary, He wants us to enjoy life! He gave us life in order that we might enjoy it. And practically all of those strangers are just normal people, just like you and me, maybe without perfect love, but with enough love that you don’t need to fear them.
We do not need to live in fear. The good news is that we actually can live in love, if we choose to.