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In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, when US Citizens seemed united in their revulsion of the devastating turn of events,  there appeared what could have been interpreted as a silver lining:  the at-long-last awakening to our every-day violent culture.  Thousands of people die every year by bullets in our world.  Perhaps we Americans would unite and stop the bleeding.

But this diary is not to advocate gun control.  Those wheels are already set in motion; I have nothing to add.  I wish Joe Biden and his project team well.

Rather I have been observing a response to this tragedy by a friend, a teacher that fears a repeat in our own city by another gun-wielding madman in her own elementary school.  Though I love her and support her right to speak out and advocate as she wishes on her position, I deeply disagree with her reaction because it is fear cloaked in the disguise of pragmatism; and it is as fine a real life example of how fear leads us down the path of disunity and division in the long run.

She wants doors.  It sounds so simple, so pragmatic.  The teaching environment is an open room school, where classes and some grades intermingle in the day to day learning.  So at certain times a day a hundred kids may be in the same room.  So, she wants doors to segment the classes, the theory being that a wacko would have a tougher time killing children with rapid fire automatic weaponry.  She's a woman of action; and has already presented her proposal to the PTA; and is poised to go in front of the school board to make her case.

I was saddened upon hearing of her determination to advocate for such a cause.  I learned for two years (4th-5th) in an elementary school in this type of teaching environment.  It was the most memorable - and happy - time from my elementary schools days.  I had been in a more traditional school environment K-3, and during these two next years, I advanced in my knowledge-absorption and social-maturity more so than perhaps any other time in my primary education. (I made a point to mention this to her, but it fell on deaf ears.  I have since kept my peace at social events.)

And there is a good chance she will prevail.  And this is the crux of my position.  She could be successful because no one wants to be on the six o'clock news as the administrator that once said "no" to doors that could have saved lives in the latest American shooting tragedy.  The fear of worst possible outcome is propelling this advocacy; and the fear of repercussions - no matter how remote - if the classrooms are not equipped with new barriers to entry may lead to acquiescence.

So a loving, healthy, positive teaching environment may be partly dismantled because we need to prepare the worst possible scenario "seen" in a smoked filled crystal ball darkened by terror.  

I reject it.  Imagine a world where we all rejected it.

Imagine a country that had rejected the idea that a few terrorists could with one hideous act successfully weaken our rights to privacy - the right to be able to board a plane without suffering the humiliation of a body Xray machine or an invasive personal body-search conducted by suspicious, empowered officials; or the right to know that our private phone conversations are not legally subject to a tap without a warrant.

Imagine a world where we rejected the idea that some small country is allegedly determined to go on a mass-suicide mission of building a nuclear bomb to attack a country with the largest stock-pile of weapons in modern history.

Imagine a county where we stopped shouting at each other over the internet over our fear of what "they" could do to us.  

Imagine a country where we stopped visualizing the worst that could happen, and instead stared fear itself in the eyes to watch that monster blink first.

We have massive problems in the country that need resolution, that I will not deny (the ease of buying war-weaponry combined with a weak mental health care system are just two of them).  

The biggest problem though is letting the harbingers-of-doom use fear itself to manipulate us into a more divided, paranoid state of mind.  This is where it starts - that dread of the worst unknown; the fear of what could happen if we resolutely said "no" to actions based on a hypothetical nightmare.

Yes, evil things happen.  They will always happen.  However, we must stop mistaking self-imprisonment for mitigation.

A cordoned off society has the illusion of being safer.  But who wants to live in a society of locks, gates, street-cameras, warrant-less wire taps, and perpetual war?  I don't.

Love and empathy:  it is the only way to a better world.  Let's tear down those walls. Unhinge those doors.  Shake the hands of our neighbors.


"...let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
 - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Originally posted to MaryAEnglish on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 11:57 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What a simply great post (7+ / 0-)

    I'm glad you wrote it and I'm glad Spotlight grabbed it up so that I read it.

    I whole heartedly agree.

    Just the other day a professor at whose house I'm working at when I joked with her about her power to flunk people she told me she doesn't do that anymore. She's scared some young guy is going to flip out and shoot her. Too many mixed up guys at the college. And she a former NGO worker, spend a lifetime in foreign countries. I saw real fear in her eyes.

    Media is partly to blame too, not that they should ignore events but do they have to upgrade every FBI entrapment case into code orange? Can't we leave those poor folks in Newtown to grieve in private?

    My wife and my primary school aged kids aren't plugged in to current events. Our town is so dead at night it is often very quiet, no cars, I live on the main street of the town, a block from the bank bar post office. Lightening could strike here, but I doubt it will.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 06:50:39 PM PST

  •  The irony is that we, in the West, live in (11+ / 0-)

    one of the safest societies in history (even given the level of gun violence in the US) and yet we are all so terrified.

    A news article about an attempted terrorist attack, or a plane crash, or an outbreak of some new virus (remember SARS, anyone??) and suddenly we are all running around screaming, like headless chickens.

    The truth is that we are far, far more likely to die in car accidents than plane crashes, far more likely to be hit by lightning than die in a terrorist attack. And that, each year, normal, garden-variety flu claims an estimated 36,000 victims in the United States.

    ...And we eventually all die. From something. Sometime.

    Are we so terrified because we live in a "dangerous" society? Or are we terrified because our society is so safe and we are so sheltered, so wrapped in cotton, that we cannot even come to terms with the idea that death might at any moment, despite all our precautions, come in and snatch us or our loved ones away?

    I am reminded of a poem by the children's poet Shel Silverstein:

    Barnabus Browning
    Was scared of drowning,
    So he never would swim
    Or get into a boat
    Or take a bath
    Or cross a moat.
    He was just sad day and night
    With his door locked tight
    And the windows nailed down,
    Shaking with fear
    That a wave might appear,
    And cried so many tears
    That they filled up the room
    And he drowned.
    The moral of the story, I guess, is that life is not very fun or worthwhile lived in perpetual fear; and the steps you take to prevent even the tiniest amount of risk, can themselves lead to disaster. (I am thinking, for example, of your friend the schoolteacher, and what might happen if kids were unable to escape or flee because of too many doors and were instead cornered in a maze of tiny rooms, one by one. A pretty chilling picture.) :(

    Climate activists unite: we need a symbol. A name. A vision. Join the discussion.

    by Eowyn9 on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 06:58:46 PM PST

  •  That's profound (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock, VetGrl, SilentBrook, LinSea, elginblt

    Everyone should take it to heart, and I mean everyone on every side of an issue.

  •  I've never seen a doorless school (7+ / 0-)

    But I have read about the concept.   I admit, I have feelings about it that probably differ from yours from a special needs viewpoint.

    But I don't really think that's the point you're addressing.  It's the fear.   It's the fact that bit by bit we move further into our own environments.   I grew up where kids would cut through neighbors yards, go out and play in the afternoon.   Neighbors all knew each other and the local kids would show up for dinner.

    The world has changed.   We sit behind our walls, we type on our computers, and we don't know who's around us.   Part of the fear is that we've lost the social connection of having to know those people.   We leave work, go home, close our doors and don't talk to anyone.

    We've walled ourselves away from the world.  And it's that fear.. that everyone is a potential lunatic that hurts us.  

    "A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet"

    Has been replaced with

    "stranger danger"

    Part of it is that some people are dangerous.  Part of it is that most people are good people.. we're just afraid to meet them.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:39:05 PM PST

  •  We are genetically programmed to fear. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, SilentBrook, LinSea, elginblt

    In a simpler time when our species was trying to survive on the African savannas our brains were programmed to react heuristically to changes like a rustling in tall grasses, crooked objects seen out of the corner of the eye or loud noises. Back then, stopping to analyze and understand a phenomenon more closely could get you killed. Back then overreacting, being safe rather than sorry, kept homonids alive.

    Even in circumstances when an immediate fight or flight response wasn't called on, it was important to relieve the stress by regaining a sense of control, to defend themselves with rocks if need be or seek the protection of those percieved to be more powerful than themselves (even if those more powerful were just imagined).

    Your friend is faced with what she percieves to be a real and novel threat, like volcanic eruptions were treated millenia ago. For ancient man, those were often the worst and most threatening and they tried that much harder to understand and control them and prevent them from happening again. In modern times, people like your friend were fearful of Y2K and had stockpiled food ("just in case") or microwaved their mail back when people feared being randomly targeted to recieve anthrax spores. If your friend was strongly religious she might seek relief in prayer. But doing nothing is unacceptable and won't rid her of the stress hormones coursing through her veins. The percieved threat must be dealt with. She has a strong need to regain control even if it is via something as useless as a door against a gunman. Your only hope is to get her to substitute one talisman for another she percieves is more powerful, maybe like one of those LED strobe flashlights that supposedly can disorient and incapacitate attackers.

  •  Synchronicity. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SilentBrook, LinSea, mrkvica, elginblt

    I penned a short spiel on fear, and specifically Roosevelt's quote, on Facebook, and had been pondering turning this into a diary here.

    The theme is that not only are we forgetting Roosevelt's words, but that there's an entire media industry devoted to making us afraid and using that fear to manipulate us.

    I love your take on the same idea - of the malicious power of fear itself. If I do make a diary, could I springboard off of this one, please?

    We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. -- Jonathan Swift

    by raptavio on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 08:42:33 AM PST

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