Granted, I live in a bubble, a few of them, in fact. I was born an American WASP male—bubble. My parents had steady and successful careers—bubble. I went to a good college and went on to get an advanced degree—bubble. I call 94027 home—BUBBLE! But for this post, I’m going to suggest the single greatest bubble I live in was created by a simple dictum my mother lives by and imbued in me: 95% of what you worry about isn’t going to happen anyway.
This places me in a position at this moment in time of having to ask, what the hell is all the worrying about in America these days? The general public seems in general to be freaking out about…everything. Mindlessly, reactively, and with all rationality shucked aside. What gives, people?
In the last 24 I came across and read two articles that gave terrific voice to this trend. Today in the Times David Brooks wrote an opinion piece, “The Epidemic of Worry,” highlighting the role this year’s election is playing in amplifying our national anxiety. He differentiates the worry experienced by the educated classes and the less educated, the former bedeviled by an existential crisis of abundance and freedom while lacking in any core sense of conviction or purpose, the latter buried in doubt and fear that the “structures of society are built for the exploitation of people like themselves. Everything is rigged; the rulers are malevolent and corrupt.”
The second article I read was from the latest Rolling Stone, entitled “The Age of Fear,” its subtitle, “We are living in the safest time in human history. So why are we all so afraid?” After reciting the now oft-repeated statistics that defend the assertion of the safety of our times (if you don’t know them you really owe it to yourself to look them up), it goes into some detail on the brain mechanisms that make us such namby pambys (damn that Chicken Little within, the amygdala), as well as the role that the Great Ravenous Hysteric (the media) plays, including the many talking head shock jocks and politicians whose bread and butter are bought by yours and my fear. I took a couple of things from this article, that having access to news 24/7 is a potentially good thing, but not when that news is fundamentally oriented to the principle of, “if it bleeds, it leads.” At that point the omnipresence of news becomes flat out toxic.
A second excellent point is best shared verbatim:
“Inherent in the ways the news is both reported and received are a number of biases that guarantee people are not informed, but rather misinformed. The first problem with the news is that it must be new. Generally, events that are both aberrations from the norm and spectacular enough to attract attention are reported, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings and plane crashes.
But far more prolific, and thus even less newsworthy, are the 117 suicides in the U.S. each day (in comparison with 43 murders), the 129 deaths from accidental overdoses, and the 96 people dying a day in automobile accidents (27 of whom aren’t wearing seat belts, not to mention the unspecified amount driving distracted). Add to these the 1,315 deaths each day due to smoking, the 890 related to obesity, and all the other preventable deaths from strokes, heart attacks and liver disease, and the message is clear: The biggest thing you have to fear is not a terrorist or a shooter or a deadly home invasion. You are the biggest threat to your own safety.”
Both articles offer the same essential resolution to these times and our fears: if you want to worry less, then do something already, take action, any action, as long as that action allows you to avoid being a ruminating, festering sponge in the artificially inflated sturm und drang of the Great Ravenous Hysteric. Want to save your everlasting soul? Here’s what it takes: put your phone on the counter, go outside and…take a walk. Perhaps the most profound advice given the American masses as the dust literally settled following 9/11 was to “Go out and live your lives.” Remember who said that? George Dubya! Lending credence to the notion that even a busted clock is right two times a day.
All of what I’m reflecting on here isn’t about those people who just lost jobs, are sick, or are otherwise facing real, serious life problems. What these people are experiencing are real fears, not the types of anxieties that a brain with too much time on its hands comes up with. That’s the malaise I’m addressing here.
And if you really want to stave off the demons of existential despair that dance so freely about these days? Do more than just take any action (though a good walk is always good for the soul). Do something creative. Create a new dish in the kitchen, brush off your whittling skills, create a slideshow from digital photos, write something, photograph something, take up a new craft, say something to a loved one that’s long overdue. Better yet, blog! For the truth is, it is exceedingly hard to be caught up in the demise of everything when you are absorbed in the creation of something.