Saturday, April 16, 2016


Fear narrative trending.  Confidence narratives in low demand.

The public mood globally is unduly pessimistic. Depressing news reports are dominant. Fear and confidence run in cycles. Currently, fear is preferred. That creates risks of its own.

Fear is preferred.

Example 1: we read that Tunisian youth are worrying about a lack of jobs and migrating by the thousands to join I.S.I.S in hopes of work. (They failed to realize that working for I.S.I.S. is a greater risk than under-employment at home.)

Examples 2 and 3: Syrians are fleeing in droves for fear of life in their home country and 3: that Africans are living in fear Boko Haram. When these fears rise to the public panic stage they create risks of their own.

Example 4: polls suggest that a significant percentage of Americans fear that their country is no longer as great and its glory days are at hand.

Welcome to the 21st century, the century of Fear. Fear is more contagious than Ebola and spreading like Zika (“Zika,” a new fear word to add to my MS Word dictionary).

I used to believe that good news would soon appear. I’m like Linus, who believed the Great Pumpkin would arrive and put fears to rest. What was I? Nothing but naïve? The great fear wave hasn’t broken yet.

Why is this fear stage so enduring? News distribution has linked every living room television set and every computer in the world into vast provider networks. The networks that transfer information around the world currently bring loads of bad news every single day. Do your own doublecheck, but what fills my screens, by my informal account, is largely scary stuff. Words like these dominate the headlines:
                “Blastin’ ‘em”
                “Insults flying”

News is a commodity and fearful subscribers shape the demand with every click on a “fear headline”. Fear headlines gain a lot of clicks.

Naturally, people by the millions are hoping to get a bead on how to protect themselves, their home, their friends and family, their country from horrors next door and around the entire world. That’s rational.

There’s an irrational factor, too. Horror is a valued commercial commodity and always has been. Just ask your local cinema theater. People pay the film industry and publishers as well to scare the hell out of themselves. Horror stories fill pages in Greek literature and the Bible. Cave paintings document the horror stories entertained our earliest ancestors. Apparently it’s part of human nature to crave to be scared to death. That makes for bad decisions.

The irrational fear factor produces a cycle something like this: news channels and venues publish scary stuff that they know people want. Vast audiences prefer to click on reports about scary topics. Advertisers pay for space in proximity to pages that get scare clicks. Scary stories attract more clicks and news producers boost their income.

Charlie Brown preferred worry over confidence. He wanted to prolong his depression. This trait, which is shared by billions worldwide, makes public discourse about leadership choices very chancy.

If you focus mainly on bad news (and it’s difficult not to focus mainly on it) you will reach this conclusion: the good days of your country and your world have passed. The whole world is in a downward spiral. Your children will inherit a worse situation than the one our parents gave us. That cycles back into more fear.

Here’s a way to break yourself out of the fear cycle. Decide to balance your viewing and reading time between hope and true dangers. For example, I find hope in news of those who fight climate change, groups fighting for land remediation in the Mississippi delta, and videos of young people protesting against hate. Once your find them, support programs and present and potential leaders making positive change. Choose inspiration over horror.

The goal is not to overlook real dangers. 

The goal is to identify the true danger and balance it with offsetting good news. 

I like the general theory of historian Arnold Toynbee (d. 1975.) For him, maintaining a civilization is a matter of challenge and response, he taught. Every civilization must define the challenge it faces and develop an appropriate response. Applying this theory promotes balance good choices among alternative solutions and candidates for leadership positions.

Our current challenge worldwide is to define the current existential challenge(s) and develop appropriate responses. This takes discipline and selectivity. Social jitters and fears don’t help this process. Courage and confidence helps produce better understanding of the challenge and the effective response.

Don’t copy Charlie Brown (he preferred bad news in order to prolong his depression). Be a Linus and hold on to hope. Team up with those who are identifying the true challenge and identifying an appropriate response. If you want to worry about a truly worrisome issue, focus on the gloomy mood of vast segments of the global population. Support those voices that offer hope and, simultaneously, quit clicking on the fear stories.

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