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Friday, July 20, 2012

Off Topic: On Horror and Fear

Last night was the mass shooting at the midnight Batman showing in Aurora, CO. Another terrible day for America. We can all only read the news and find ourselves imagining what it must have been like to be in that theater, in the smoke, feeling the concussions, the panic, the fear. In the long run, I think fear is the worst for us as a society. How many of us planning on seeing Batman this weekend (including me) now wonder if it's safe? Is any crowd safe anymore? The randomness of terror is debilitating.

In reading through comments posted online, I see a lot of people my age and older mourning for decades past when America was a different, better, healthier place. We remember being able to walk anywhere when we were kids. There was no thought for staying in sight or even earshot. You only had to be home by dinner. I remember disappearing for hours, just walking and walking, and it was glorious. Ah, the safety of the early '80s.

To those who need some shred of reassurance, I suggest this: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/ As it turns out, violent crime in America peaked in 1991-1992. In Oregon, there's actually 25% less violent crime now than when I was my oldest son's age. These are the hard, sometimes counter-intuitive facts of statistics.

As a parent, I guard my children far more rigidly than I was ever guarded. And why not? It seems that every week, I see headlines of some new travesty streaming across my homepage and many more through my Facebook feed. Thanks to the Internet and my constant connection to it, I've been exposed to an ever-increasing awareness of just how dangerous and terrible the world is right outside my door.

Except it's not. My perception is flawed. The fear that fuels my protection of my kids stems from conditions present in the early '90s. While the danger of those conditions have declined in reality, my perception of that danger has increased dramatically because of the media and related information I absorb every day.

It's the fear. Fear is dictating my actions. Fear is changing how I behave as a parent and thus how my kids behave and perceive their world. And in reality, despite today and despite the grim tidings surrounding my daily awareness, I have less reason to fear now than any time since 1973. When we live in fear, we harm ourselves by denying ourselves joy and give others the ability to control us.

I'm going to Batman tonight. I will not let a random occurrence, no matter how brutal and tragic, make my knuckles whiter or my mind more clouded. Because we, all of us, have to fight the fear. Could it be that we see so many of these shootings, from Columbine to today, being perpetrated by youth because they were raised inside a haze of such negativity? Could our increasingly unfounded fear itself be helping to spawn these horrors?

I have no desire to participate in such a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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