Long before social media put us into each other’s pockets and thoughts on a moment to moment basis, we had discovered that bad things were happening all over the world. We weren’t just hearing from the next-door neighbor that somebody on our street had fallen down dead for no reason—we were also hearing about bizarre and awful things happening from as far away as Sidney, Australia. And when you hear about the problems of the WORLD in a steady stream, it starts to make you feel like bad stuff is constantly happening everywhere all the time.
I don’t think I’m unusual in my certainly irrational anxiety as I’ve watched my son go from one life experience to the next. Added to the worries of the last generation of “when she starts driving will she have an accident?” is the new concern: “will she have an accident and then be abducted by a serial killer because I know for a fact that can happen.” I’m not saying information is bad. We as a people long to know what’s going on with each other. Although Americans have been accused of only being interested in what’s happening in their own backyards, I think we’re all curious about the human condition wherever it is. It’s just that, instead of registering: “yep, that’s awful” over the discovery of a shocking story, we tend to gather up all the horrible, shocking stories (or rather the media does) and stack them up so high around us that all we see is a shocking and horrible world. And that is the world we are sending our treasured sons and daughters off into. Can they help but be timorous after twenty years of watching Mom & Dad hold their collective breath every time they tried something new?
I don’t think my own parents loved me any less than I love my son. But they allowed me the freedom to experience life on my own terms that I have never been comfortable giving him. (When my father was stationed overseas in the early sixties, my little brothers and I freely wandered post-war Germany like scavaging souvenir-hunters, happily dragging home ancient hand grenades and unexploded bombs. Come to think of it, my parents may have been a little more laid back than most.)
Possibly it was ignorance. In those days, you didn’t hear the words “child molester” or commonly consider the possibility that dear old Uncle Ray might be inappropriately eyeing your son or daughter. It never occurred to you not to let your child ride his bike wherever he wanted to go, or even be gone for the full day if that’s where his adventures took him. Was it really a “kinder, gentler” time as George Bush, Sr used to say? Or was it just a time where bad stuff happened and our parents were oblivious to it? Are the fears we have today real? Or are they just a reaction to the flood of horror stories we now all hear about in the world community?
16 thoughts on “It’s A Scary World Out There”
You know, I was thinking of exactly this question as I was driving home from the awfulness that is surrounding my brother’s protracted death yesterday. I kept thinking that if he were dying like this 100 years ago, not only would I never have been able to get from Philadelphia to Cincinnati to be there for him, I never would have had to experience the raw frustration that is his wife’s severe mental illness or his daughter’s conditioned belief that her mother is “just a little sleep-deprived”. It’s not exactly the same thing as catastrophic or sensational world events, but it comes from the same place I think.
Lines of communication are so much more open now that we are able to know things that happen zillions of miles away as if they are happening next door. I personally think all this modern hysteria comes from a blend of wanting to know everything and the thrill of sensationalism, but it’s become too much and now we expect it all the time. Personally, as my drive home yesterday taught me, I think I’d rather not know. There is a definite up side to blissful ignorance. And I wonder, if fewer people knew of bad things happening somewhere else, would they be less inclined to copy-cat it all?
OH, Merry, I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. The present-day technologies help keep us more connected but that means we lose the natural protection of distance. It’s a two-edge sword. And I agree with you about our desperate need for sensationalism. We WANT to look at the car wreck, but then we end up having nightmares about it or becoming fearful that we’re next. I think it’s no wonder that some of us (writers) like to escape to other, less complicated, timelines. Let’s hear it for blissful ignorance.
Powerful post. I’d given up watching the news, talk shows, and other “reality” type shows a long time ago so I could sleep at night. I found that all of that bad news was keeping me in a constant state of worry, fear, and depression. I even have to turn away from my social media for days on end when horrific things are all people can talk about.
I think these are good ideas. I tend to bring my Smartphone to bed with me and it’s the first thing I grab off the nightstand in the morning! I definitely need to go on a Techno-diet and get a little more peace in my life!
I grew up in a small brick ranch house snuggled tight against the grass covered hills of the Garvey Ranch, it was the best of times and the worst of times, the end of the depression and the beginning of the second world war. AND it was heaven growing up in a small rural town protected by thousands of acres of ranch land. we ate dinner at home, carried lunch to school in a brown paper bag, left home barefoot in the morning with the sound of moms voice warning “be home by supper time”. telephones had dials, radio was our family entertainment, with Red Skelton, the Grand Ol’ Opry, Sky King and the Cisco Kid, Saturday night square dances and homemade fire works on the fourth of July. seems like everything we did back then, is illegal now including going bare foot, play cowboys n’ indians with cap guns and home made bows and arrows, dogs ran free, and all were taught the golden rule, “be prepared”, which meant we all (boys and girls, moms and dads) carried a knife in our pocket, to school and to work, and of course fishing and camping, that pocket knife was our tool box and came in handy in a hundred ways, including model airplanes, boats, arrows and tomahawks. and then there were the stories. Whenever there were people (remember kids where people too) gathered together around the dinner table, in the kitchen, sittin’ on the front porch, or around a camp fire, evenings were filled with stories. The world is up-side down, today it seems every one is a writer and no one has time to tell a story, we are inundated with rules and lost the ability to map our own wandering trail through life.
Well said, Jon. And spot on as usual.
Just re-read my post and I think my point got a little lost in the telling, I do believe there are far to many rules and warning labels, kids don’t play outside enough, or ever, without supervision, still that life remembered hasn’t been left to far behind, if we take the time to slow down a little, pay attention and remember what it was we set out to do on our journey down the yellow brick road all those years ago, did we really believe we wanted to live in an air conditioned cubical plugged into a virtual world that beeped and prodded us to answer this and push that and see those, or did we want to stow away on a pirate ship and walk barefoot on the beach, the secret is that beach is still there, we just have to take the time to take off our shoes and follow our boyhood foot prints to the edge of the sea. that’s where the treasure is. that’s where our dreams beckon us, be back in a minute, I see a tall ship flying the skull and cross bones just over the horizon. the point is we forgot what we knew back then when we were kids and our kids never had a chance to find it, because they were always plugged in or kept safe, so they’re never lived, and without living they didn’t have the chance to dream and without dreams there’s nothing to reach for.
A very powerful post. I think the opening of communications and information we’ve seen in the last twenty years has a part to play, and perhaps overindulgence and paranoia on behalf of current parents as well?
One of the problems of 24 hour news stations is the deluge of bad news stories that make it seem far more then it might actually be, and I think we get overloaded with it.
One of my nephews is rather overly paranoid, and I think it’s largely due to his parents- my sister and her ex, neither of whom I’m speaking to anymore- who instilled this seeming fear in him of complete strangers. I’ve seen it in him myself; it’s one thing to be wary, it’s another to think everyone’s out to get you. Maybe hovering too much has part of the blame for that.
I just remember as a child being given a lot of freedom to do as I liked, and this was after my parents had lost one son, who drowned in an old quarry pond. They could have been paranoid with us, but they weren’t.
Wow. Your parents had a strong sense of perspective. It would be SO hard not to hover over the remaining kids after having lost a child! And like with your nephew, the results aren’t generally pretty. How anxiety as a parenting form can produce something healthy and balanced is beyond me. Yet how do we teach our kids to tune out the 24-hour news stations, the dire warnings, our own fretful pleas? I hate how I sound when my 17-year old goes out the door, like my urgings to “be safe!” will some how KEEP him safe. Ludicrous! It’s just a control thing. Instead of throwing it to God, we think we can manipulate things up so they’ll go right. That sense of control is just an illusion. But what would we have without it?
The problem is, we wrap our kid’s in a safe package, so they can’t get hurt, or be hurt because they are protected, everything they do is done in a safe environment, everyone they meet has been screened and certified safe, the words spoken near them are all positive, the food they eat has been cleaned and tested and stamped and their life, after rounds of testing, is pretty much decided, the right schools, neighborhood, and life guides, what could go wrong? what goes wrong is until he’s twenty he’s never had to decide for himself, whether he liked his porage, or if it was safe to cross the street at this or that particular moment or not, and then what about that career the tests said he’d excel in and love, what if, just suppose, what if he’d wanted, no not wanted, dreamed of being a tap dancer, floating down the amazon, following one particular tiger striped monkey, or spending his life cleaning boilers in gas powered generating plants, remember Enstien was a mediocker student at best, some day your perfect child will have to find his own dreams hidden somewhere along a winding uncertain trail in the fog of night, alone, without you holding his hand. when that time comes you will be gone and all he’ll have is that pirate map he found stuffed under the floor of the tree house he used to play pirates in as you watched, one starry night, through the laundry room window so long ago, when you decided to let him make up his own mind about when to come in and bit your tungue to stop yourself from asking him again if he wanted to take his bath yet.
and you guessed correctly, I can’t spell, but as I said that’s not the point. let me find my own way, Let me do it myself, even if I fail, even if I give up and don’t try again for days or weeks, don’t help me, let me do it, let me find a way. you see I’m not lost, I’m just finding my way and it’s hard, but not as hard as trying to be all the things you dreamed for me. Don’t worry I’m just over here looking for that pirate map I lost a long time ago..
I think we tend to look back on the past as better because the problems have been solved. We know “it” didn’t kill us. Whereas we do not know our future. Into this we have to mix changing attitudes. Each generation has it demons, and they’re usually different from the last. The mechanism is always the same – we identify something as wrong an then find it everywhere, believing society is under threat as a result. The symptoms – witchcraft, communism or whatever – are usually different. And society inevitably sails on through.
I think the ease of communication today has intensified all that – to some extent we “perceive” things as worse because we know about them.
Yet – at the same time – I can’t help thinking that there has been a change of standards away from the caring. About 20 years ago a little girl was abducted and murdered here in NZ, while walking to school; overnigjht, parents began driving their kids – nobody walks now. We revel to gladiatorial entertainment that would have been unthinkable a generation ago – contest cooking shows that are designed to humiliate the contestants, so we can watch their discomfort. These things stand apart from attitudes that – as a historian – I know existed two and three generations ago. And yet they, too, had their problems!
A great post- and thanks for sharing.
Many times the problems of today, were the solutions of yesterday. We “human beings” try to solve the problems of people who’s shoes we’ve never walked in, with money taken from people we’ve never met. so we eliminate problem X yesterday and create problems Y and Z Today. My advice would be for each of us to live our own lives and dreams, face our own challenges, wading in our own streams, giving those we know and love a hand, make our way through the forests, blazing trees on our journey so that others can follow, or decide to go their own way blazing bright trails in every direction. building our campfires protected from the storm, celebrate the good we’ve seen on our journey. Old Cherokee saying “White Man builds big fire sits back, Red Man builds small fire sits close”.
It was reassuring to me to hear that it’s not just overly fretful American parents who started driving their kids to school, but also mind-blowing to think that in NZ, like here, nobody walks to school any more. I don’t know if we’re any safer (probably?) but it’s sure a lot less fun for the kids.
Jon, I love your comments! This really nails it and it’s so beautifully poetic, too.
Susan, thanks for the nice words, it’s the honesty of the question that demands an honest answer, and with a little luck a tad more beauty than misspelling, as for the poetry, guess that’s up to the reader, I’m an old guy who through no fault of my own, have lived a wonderful life, literally. my dad could have been the inspiration for the movie “it’s a wonderful life” who was it who said “you see what you want to see” what can I say “life is good”
this is my third try at saying what I believe about teaching, learning and life. guess there’s no pretty way to say it “it’s up to you” no one else can tell you how to be you. only you can do that. I’m an artist, I scribble for a living. people used to tell me I was lucky because I had so much talent. I didn’t much like that, it was as if they were telling me that my art came from someone or thing other than me, from the land of talent, I was just lucky to have been blessed by the talent fairy, or taken a bite from the talent apple.
then one day one of the instructors at Art Center College of Design said something that has guided me ever since. He said “it’s not the talent, it’s the brush mileage” those words set me free. life isn’t made of magic, secret blessing or the waving of a magic wand. Life is made of brush mileage, the living of it. nothing else. another instructor said “someday you have to stop going to school and get off your butt and be an artist”. I did and I am, sold my first illustration to Road & Track in 1958 and delivered another yesterday. but that’s not the story. the story is, it’s not up to our parents, teachers, or some life expert to shape our lives, it’s up to each of us, to find who we are from our first steps, through each step up, or slip down on the ladder of life, it’s us, each of us, who must find our unique way through life, it’s us who must find who we are at every stage and in every way, it’s us who must do the growing, no one else can tell use who we’ll be, no one else can do the growing for use. my theory is that kids should be left to be kids, to find themselves, to build there castles and tear them down, to pick our selves up again and grow some more, in what direction we don’t know until the growing is done. sure you need fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers to point up the mountain or down the trail, to pick us up when we’ve fallen, or point out that the stairway we’ve climbed has a missing step. but our life is ours and must be lived by us in our own way. yes we need mentors and friends but we are the ones who have to do the living and growing. our life is our fault and ain’t it grand.