Studies by experts, including the FBI, have yet to come up with an explanation for this continuing drop in crime rates. Yet to watch the news or follow the various media, one would naturally conclude that the world has become increasingly dangerous and that we need to be very fearful and cautious. I'm continually amazed when parents tell me they would never hire a baby-sitter for an evening or let their kids play outside after school. It used to be as kids we went outside after school and didn't come in until it got dark or mom called us in for dinner.
So what's behind this spreading of fear? Could it be You-Know-Who, TheFearMonster? Think of it as a corporation, TheFearMonster, Inc. with an organizational chart. There's R&D, Research & Development, where ways to terrify the public are generated. And then there's Marketing and its sales force comprised of Fearmongers whose responsibility it is to spread fear. Unlike Santa Claus, TheFearMonster can't be everywhere and has to rely on its Fearmongers to market and distribute fear.
So who are these Fearmongers and how do they do it? Let's take a look. Besides politicians (that's too obvious), how about the media? TV, newspapers, the internet, blogs, etc. It's a no-brainer that the majority of the news is alarming, disturbing, negative and often terrifying with an occasional feel-good story thrown in in the last two minutes. There's an old news axiom that "If it bleeds, it leads." Even the weather report is terrifying with killer tornadoes and deadly storms predicted. Oh yeah, don't forget the commercials: "Your heart attack will happen tomorrow." And if the disease doesn't get you, the possible medication side-effects will.
OK. How can we be smart consumers and resist this sales pitch? Here are a few ideas. Gavin deBecker is an internationally recognized security consultant who provides protective security to high-profile public figures, government officials, celebrities and consults with police and intelligence agencies and large corporations. Go to his website, GavindeBecker.com and pull up his piece on Media Fear Tactics in which he teaches how to break the code of "alarming newspeak" so the truer and less frightening facts emerge.
Here are a couple of media catch phrases designed to alarm viewers: "Possible..." In other words, it's not happening right now and probably not likely to. "Taking seriously..." Taking something seriously just means doing what's normal and reasonable. "Deadly..." Something can be deadly but doesn't mean it poses a threat to most of us. Here are a few more "alarming newspeak" phrases to watch for: "Experts fear...", "Shocking new details", "As many as...", and my favorite, "Just a matter of time before..." .
His book, The Gift of Fear is a classic and a must-read on assessing and putting fear into perspective and steps individuals can do to keep themselves safe from real threats (By the way, TheFearMonster has tried unsuccessfully to have this book banned). I also recommend watching his talk on fear before a group at St. Francis College. Google Gavin deBecker YouTube. It's highly informative and helpful. Learning to decipher what's really being said by the media can be enormously helpful in reducing fear. And it can make watching the news,especially local news, a highly entertaining game.
Lastly, Andrew Weil, MD, founder of the Integrated Medicine Program at University of Arizona, recommends taking a news fast one or two days a week. Don't read the paper or watch the news or go on the internet. We won't become ignorant of world events, the media is simply too pervasive. But the benefits we experience in more calm, less stress, anxiety, and overall peace of mind are well worth it.
Next Time: FEARMONGERING 2