I was invited to a dinner a few weeks ago where each guest was asked to arrive with an answer to this question; “With the rise of terrorism threats in the world, what keeps you up at night?” Although the dinner was focused on a discussion about combating hatred and extremism in our communities, the question left me wondering why I couldn’t just answer it truthfully. It’s not terrorism that wakes me up at 3 am and keeps my eyes as big as those of a Gibbon, but simply it’s the small annoying things that comprise the day-to-day grind. I worry about nuclear war, but it just slips way down on the anxiety ladder when the middle-of-the-night comes knocking.
So while the intellectuals at the table were espousing about the real threats to humankind that make their sheets shake after dark, all I could think about were the things that keep ME up at night.
My kids are living alone in big cities next year — what will they eat? Will their Uber driver kidnap them? (poo poo)
I need to return those expensive shoes.
How can I make it right with my mother before graduation?
Did my girlfriend really mean it when she said that to me?
What if that freaky mole on my neck is cancer?
Sometimes I am just pissed at my husband because he is happily dreaming while I’m wide awake enough to let the small stuff eat at my brain until I want to scream.
Terrorism scares me, just not as much. When my daughter lived in Europe I was more concerned that she would end up like one of the girls from the movie Taken, rather than be bombed by a terrorist. Maybe it’s my way of shielding myself from the bigger, scarier things in life. Am I alone in this thinking? I decided to ask a few others; some friends and others business acquaintances.
What struck me, in my random sampling of both groups, was that their worries were not dissimilar from mine. From a forgotten thank you note to fear that a loved one will be in poor health; from work and financial stress to wondering whether he or she is living a life of purpose; to fears centered around children or worrying about a friend’s health and a to-do list; most people are ethnocentrically focused when it comes panicking in the middle of the night.
After the dinner, I still pondered why many of us are not freaking out in our dark bedrooms over all the crazy stuff that has been going on lately. I reached out to my girlfriend who has made a life of studying terrorism and catching bad guys (think Carrie from Homeland.) I know she worries about this stuff all the time, but I wanted to know why it’s not the first thing that comes to mind for us average citizens. Here’s her take on why we stick to the small stuff.
- People believe that terrorists live abroad, far away from us. We don’t think about them as doctors, lawyers, engineers and people who own multibillion dollar enterprises. If we focused on how they recruit locally across social media platforms, we would not allow a computer in our home or our kids to have Facebook.
- We cannot force ourselves to look critically at our own neighbors. In the case of many of the latest domestic terrorist acts; these people were someone’s neighbors. We don’t want to label anyone incorrectly; or be wrong about our hunches so we just lay low.
- If we focus on global issues, it could paralyze us. We would then believe that nowhere is safe. We would have to undergo attack training and be constantly on watch. No one wants to do this.
- We live in a 140-character world with the attention span of a YouTube video. Terrorism and its complexities don’t rate as much as that funny cat video in our minds. We would have to be willing to admit that bad people want to kill us and carefully analyze each incident. Terrorism is not a five-second sound bite; it’s a long and rigorous study.
- We have become fragile, soft beings. We can’t do our jobs, raise our families and take care of our homes while thinking about serial killers or another world war every day. It’s too much. We are far away from what our grandparents experienced during WWII. Our worries are centered around our families needs and for many even that is too difficult.
I wondered if our conversation would add more strain to my early morning wake-up calls. Maybe, but I am certain I will go back to the kid, health, stupid shoe stuff in no time because these are things I feel I can control.
We all need to make a better effort to be more cognizant of the global dangers and learn how to make them less of a thing that happens to others, because it could happen right here. I just hope I can find a way to think about it all before the sun goes down.