Perspective — and bogeymen

Stuart Anthony/Flickr/Creative Commons

Stuart Anthony/Flickr/Creative Commons

December, 2015

For many years I have had two particular pictures above my desk at work. One is from the mid-90s, of a Bosnian Serb executing a man in cold blood. The other is of a star, the same size as our own sun, going nova.

I call them my perspective pictures. I have the first one because it reminds me no matter how bad things in my life seem to be, there is always some place in the world much, much worse. The second one reminds me that one day all this (all life on earth, all traces of us ever having been here) is going to go away. So why worry? What does it truly matter in the scheme of things? At both the micro and the macro level, it’s all a matter of perspective.

These pictures have been very helpful to me lately because I currently live in a country that has lost all sense of perspective. The ability of Americans to reason and to calmly take a step back and look at the big picture seems to have vanished faster than Scott Walker’s presidential aspirations. If I may borrow a quote from Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, everybody just needs to R – E – L – A – X.

Let’s take a recent example.

To listen to the talking heads on cable news networks or politicians in Washington DC, the country is about to be overrun by terrorists at any moment. They lurk everywhere. (Muslim terrorists that is … Christian terrorism, like the attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, is never included in the “terrorism” category by the so-called experts that bloom on cable TV like kudzu in the South.)

Well, consider this. So far in the United States this year, 17 people have been killed by Muslim terrorists, and 15 people have been killed by Christian terrorists. That’s 32 people in total.

Every year in the United States, an average of 176 people are killed by televisions falling on them. (True fact.)  You are 40,000 times more likely to die crossing the street than in a terrorist attack on a commercial airliner. Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 3.5 million. Your chances of being killed in an accident with a deer are one in 2 million. Your chances of being hit by lightning TWICE are greater than being killed in a terrorist attack. I could go on and on. (All of the above statistics come from organizations like the National Safety Council, the CDC in Atlanta, or universities that have done research on this topic.)

Yet under a constant bombardment of intentionally provocative images and often false information, alongside many people’s bigotry and racism, and with a dose of confirmation bias added,  people who will never in their lives, even if they live to be 150, come into contact with a terrorist, act like there’s one living next door, ready to slaughter them in their sleep.

As a result, instead of looking at situations like the current refugee crisis squarely and reaching out a hand to help Syrian families in dire need, Americans allow themselves to be bamboozled. They allow themselves to think all of the people fleeing from terrorism may themselves be terrorists. And while other countries, like Canada, put fears aside and allow their humanity to be the deciding factor, many Americans retreat into dark little holes of xenophobia, quietly muttering the word “freedom” under their breaths while clutching AK-47s.

And it’s not just the so-called threat from terrorism that causes Americans to lose all sense of perspective. Last year the Ebola “crisis,” which claimed the life of exactly one American, had people behaving hysterically.

There always seems to be something in this country that pushes people towards a place where they lose all ability to think rationally.

When did Americans become such fraidy cats? When did their own shadows start to scare them so much? When did they become so gullible that a snake oil salesman politician, or a greasy cable news commentator, can convince them to be so afraid of false bogeymen?

It’s not that these issues are without concern, but they need to be put into (wait for it…) perspective. When you lose all sense of perspective, when you allow yourself to be thrown about on a sea of misinformation and fear like a boat whose engine has failed, then you behave in ways that betray the very values you say you stand for.

How do we restore perspective in a country so sorely lacking it? Take a look at the world around you. Not the world you see on cable news talking head shows. Not the world you hear about on talk radio. The real world. There are more than enough sources at your local library, for heaven’s sakes, that will help you gain better understanding of important issues.

It’s time for Americans to stop being so afraid of everything. There are real problems that need to be solved. Being afraid of things that go bump in the night is not the way to find those solutions.


The Terrorism Statistics Every American Needs to Hear:

10 Things More Likely To Kill You Than Islamic Terror:

You’re 55 Times More Likely to be Killed by a Police Officer than a Terrorist:

The 25 most common causes of death:

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.






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