Thirteen people, including a three-year-old boy, shot in a South Side park in Chicago … thirteen more people killed just a few days earlier in the Washington Navy Yard … Newtown … Aurora … Tucson … Virginia Tech … everyone knows the locations by heart.
About the only thing everyone agrees on is that these mass slayings — whether you blame them on too many firearms or too few firearms — are going to continue, and probably get worse. After all, there’s no other way for a mentally ill or angry person to get so famous so fast as to mow down a bunch of innocent people. Welcome to the United States of Violence!
Every time these mass murders occur, it reminds me of two kinds of people:
First is the person whose philosophy is, “It’s amazing how many things won’t kill you.
Second is the person whose philosophy is, “It’s amazing how many things will kill you.”
So, who’s right? On balance, I think probably both of them are right. It really is amazing how many seemingly dangerous things seldom kill people. Example: parachuting. But it’s also amazing how many seemingly harmless things will kill you. Example: driving a lot, especially long distances.
It pretty much gets down to the law of averages. If you smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, it might not kill you. But the law of averages, based on actual statistics, say there’s an excellent chance that it will.
On the other hand, if you cross a busy street corner when the light turns green, the law of averages says the odds are overwhelming that it won’t result in your death. But it could.
What I’m leading up to here is how the law of averages can be utilized to keep fear under control. Fear is a basic instinct that, thankfully, we are born with. Without it, we wouldn’t survive very long. But over the centuries, as civilizations have advanced, learned fears have come into play in so many areas of life that they often cheat us of many of the splendors of life.
What it all gets down to is reasonable fears versus irrational fears. A phobia is an irrational fear. There are people who literally lock themselves in their houses all day because they are afraid of the dangers that lie outside. These are mentally disturbed individuals who can only be classified as the walking dead.
While being too fearful of too many things is not a healthy way to travel through life, it’s still a good idea to be cautious and play the law of averages. And rule number one when it comes to playing the law of averages is to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Which brings me back to the mass slayings that are becoming America’s trademark. The problem with mass murderers is that they operate primarily in broad daylight … Columbine, Forth Hood, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and the Navy Yard in Washington, to name but a few of the more famous examples.
How can you possibly avoid such broad-daylight dangers? You can’t. It’s true that carrying a concealed weapon shifts the odds in your favor a bit, but sometimes that’s either not possible or practical. And there’s certainly no guarantee that you would be able to use your weapon quickly and accurately enough to stop a mass murderer.
So, there comes a time when you have to rely on those well-known words from the “Serenity Prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Serenity and fear cannot coexist. If you’re fearful, you cannot be serene. If you’re serene, you cannot be fearful. No question that serenity is the better choice.
It may be a cliché, but a good antidote to excessive fear is coming to grips with the truth in the aphorism, “When your time is up, it’s up.” But that doesn’t mean you have to do things that increase the odds of your number coming up sooner rather than later.
Even though total freedom is a myth, everyone wants longs to be free. And freedom from fear is at the top of the list. As discussed, it’s a waste of mental energy to fear things over which you have little or no control, such as random mass murders. But it’s even more important not to blow the daily cares of life out of proportion and fear them as though they were fatal conditions.
You need not fear quitting your job and starting your own business with little or no money. Going broke is not a fatal condition.
You need not fear being rejected by someone, because you don’t need any one person. Thus, rejection is not a fatal condition.
You need not fear being criticized, because sticks and stones can’t break your bones. Therefore, being criticized is not a fatal condition.
You need not fear losing “the best deal in the world,” because the best deal in the world comes along every day. Clearly, losing a seemingly great deal is not a fatal condition.
That isn’t to say that things like the above examples aren’t painful. They are. But the greatest advances in life often stem from pain. While I appreciate the fact that it’s much easier said than done, it’s a big mistake to waste mental resources fearing such things as rejection, criticism, or the loss of a deal, a lover, or a job.
As Nietzsche put it, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ Random mass slayings aside, pain builds character and lays the groundwork for success.