Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fourth Saturday's Loneliest Liberal: The things we worry about

Almost none of them will happen

By James Knudsen

Back when I was in high school, I received some of the best advice I would ever get. I think it was in Leadership class, definitely not the place for me as it was filled with student council types, and that wasn’t me. But my girlfriend was in the class, so what more reason could I need?
    One day one of the school counselors addressed us about stress. She said, “You know, 95% of the things you worry about never happen.”

    Talk about a light-bulb moment. Worry had never been a big part of my psyche, but now it was banished forever. I will confess to taking this attitude a bit too far sometimes—I don’t worry about getting my traffic school done on time and lo and behold, I don’t get it done on time. But for the most part, this bit of advice has served me well. And it beats the alternative.

I have friends who are in an endless cycle of worry about everything. I have witnessed its affecting their health and careers. And with the internet just keystrokes away to research every tremor, our deepest fears—founded on the shallowest of doubts—find their bedrock of certitude. Now, I have been in enough therapy to know that whatever the mind creates is very real to the person attached to that mind.
    But it does seem to be getting worse at the very time it should be getting better. I would submit that, in the arc of human history, we’re at a point where a lot of uncertainty has been eliminated. Food, housing, security—the basic needs have been met, allowing for the flourishing of art, recreation, and representative government.
    And still people are afraid, nervous, stressed. Why? Are some of us just this way or has this situation been created?

Mr. Zimmerman didn't like that
hooded black teenager in his community
Recent events in Florida have shone a bright light on the problem. Three incidents involving Skittles, texting, or loud music have produced three dead people. The presence of a gun is clearly a factor, but I’m more concerned with what put a gun on the shooter’s hip. I’ve already ruled out food, shelter, and a functioning government. Florida doesn’t actually have armed gangs riding in the back of Toyota pickups. That sounds more like Somalia or Syria, places with a marked absence of food, shelter, and functioning government. Is it simple paranoia, or the more interesting paranoia complex?

Several years ago, while visiting New Hampshire, I went to see a Shaker community. Humble surroundings, utopian community, hand-crafted cabinetry , locks on the cabinetry...locks? As the docent explained it, “They hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.”

Mr. Dunn didn't like that "thug music"
    Hope for the best and prepare for the worst has become the slogan for many. I just wonder if it’s possible. If you’ve decided to prepare for the worst, you must think it’s necessary. Just in case, if something should happen, you will be ready. From there it seems a short walk to when something happens, and it’s an even shorter walk from there to something is happening: Gun, bang, “oops.”
    As I implied, I’ve been in therapy, I am not a therapist, so I cannot speak to the underlying psychological forces at work. But the premise at work, being prepared for the worst, seems counterintuitive to expecting the best.

Mr. Reeves didn't like that loud
cell-phone conversation going on
in front of him in the movie theater
    If this is the result of genetics, then there is no hope. But I don’t think it is. Fear has become a sales tool second only to sex. Fear sells guns, cars, drugs (the proper, potent, prescription kind), food, phones, politicians, and, lest we forget, war. But fear is also a poor condition to be in when making decisions—probably why sellers are so fond of it.
    I have been fortunate to live relatively free of it. I can be startled—walking in my sister’s garden, I came upon a five-foot-long, rosy-pink snake that absolutely terrified me despite its being harmless. But I’m not hamstrung by the persistent urban legends about big cities or by black helicopters or whatever it is preppers are prepping for. (Do they even know?) And I must admit that being male, white, and financially stable makes all this a bit easier. Then again, I just described George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn, and Curtis Reeves.
Copyright © 2014 by James Knudsen

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  1. Very good article James. There was at one time a big selling t-shirt that read: Don't worry---be happy. And on the cover of Mad, Alfred E. Newman, quote: What me worry?

    I think that along with the internet, twenty-four hour talk shows, which pass themselves as news related drive the crazy bus.

    Those that are a little paranoid can find any number of outlets to Justify their paranoid---even kick it up a notch or two.

    1. Sorry that is paranoia----fear does that to you. It happens the second after I hit post.

  2. Actually, American politics since the 1940s has been one big paranoia fest, with both the major parties culpable ( as much as I like to blame the Repugs) in profiting from the game. Add to that the post Civil Rights Era "dangerous Black men" media spasms, and what do you get- "Stand Your Ground" laws and gun dealers getting rich equals BANG BANG.

    One other point: for something over ten percent of this country's populace "Food, housing, security—the basic needs have been met" isn't true, and they are losing ground. They are also the most likely to be next to catch a bullet, whether from a another asshole like the above three, or a cop.

    I, like you, and most readers of Moristotle &Co, have the stability in our lives to nod and concur with what you write. But, the need to work for change in the areas I've cited above so that that remains true. The armed gangs in pickup trucks in Somalia or Syria arose from political/supply crises in their societies.

  3. Thank you, James, for this excellent advice about our own private worries. The only thing I can think to add is that worrying about things that actually DO happen is often, if not usually, worse than the happening, which is a good reason in many cases for getting on with it!