Monday, October 31, 2011

Why is Everyone So Afraid?

The arrival of Halloween this year made me wonder: Why are so many Americans afraid all of the time? Rather than being scared by vampires or ghouls briefly during October, many citizens seem to be constantly afraid of daily life.

Granted, the last few years have been tough, especially in view of our failing economy and world turmoil. People have experienced increasing unemployment, decreasing real estate values, a volatile stock market and uncertainty at every turn. In our present worldwide economy, problems in other parts of the world -- including Greece and Ireland -- greatly impact stock markets around the globe only contributing to the instability.

This isn't the first time our country has experienced widespread tension but the current crisis has lasted for years without much hope on the horizon. What happened to that old American bravado? Why is everyone so negative about our future?

There might be a logical explanation for our insecurity. It may be that the financial volatility and related concerns have fallen victim to excessive media overexposure. The existence of cable news/information programs and talk radio have naturally driven competition throughout the media. The huge amount of airtime to be filled each day -- which includes many 24-hour channels -- has also ramped up the need for more information to be regurgitated for public consumption. In decades passed, reports merely provided highlights and then moved on to the next story. Now the evening news programs bestow details of the day's investment trading disaster, what analysts think about it and how Congress reacted, sometimes filling more than half of the entire news show. Viewers are left with a single issue enthusiastically repeated and examined from every possible angle.

News editors also seem a little less selective about which features are chosen for reporting. Have you ever watched a piece on the news and wondered how a story of no general concern or interest even made it into the coverage? Chances are the reason is that they have plenty of empty air time to fill. As a result, viewers are exposed to a variety of rather insignificant items of relatively no importance, but shown repeatedly to drive home the point.

There is plenty of work to be done to improve matters in this country. People are struggling every day just to survive, education needs an overhaul and we are still trying to figure out how to bring troops home. But what seems to be missing is focus. While much of the population -- the "99%" -- has learned by necessity to multi-task, the country as a whole has not. Until we can cut out some of the rhetoric and most of the static, we will continue to flail.

We need to concentrate on what really matters and recognize what we can fix and how to do it. To that end, I like this comment by philosopher W.W. Bartley:

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there is none, never mind it.

Let's all try to pull together and find our way back to a positive plan.

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