Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2001 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
People in places like Israel and Northern Ireland will tell you that terrorism is basically random violence on a consistent basis. Some societies can handle that, and some cannot. Osama bin Laden and his gang of psychopaths are betting America cannot.
There is no question that Americans had become used to feeling secure and protected. Two months ago, our lives revolved around going places, buying things and pursuing happiness -- without the specter of fanatical killers. The thought of a deadly chemical lodged inside an envelope was incomprehensible. Now, of course, it has become a daily occurrence.
Some Americans simply will not accept the loss of normalcy and well-being. They view it as a birthright. But, of course, it is not. And the sooner we accept the fact that all our lives have changed for the worse, the quicker we can deal with the fear factor.
Some shrinks have told me that many of their patients feel guilty for being afraid. Nobody likes to think of him or herself as cowardly. The analysts are urging that the public embrace those who are afraid. I'm not so sure that's the answer.
I do agree that fear in the face of murderous terrorism is natural and normal, and there is no shame in having fearful thoughts. But letting fear influence your behavior, well, that's when the problems begin.
Talking about your fear to a health professional is a positive. But altering your life because you think anthrax will get you is foolish and cowardly. The terrorists are banking on demoralizing America by a series of vicious, high-profile assaults. Because we are all in this fight together, we must not allow ourselves to become demoralized, thereby giving the terrorists a victory.
Courage is something that is acquired -- nobody is born with it. But you must have the will to be courageous. You must force yourself to conquer fear. In the end, no government or person can protect you against a random attack or a fatal disease. There is an order to the universe -- when it is your time to die, you will die. And there's nothing you can do about it.
That doesn't mean that you take foolish chances or volunteer to sort mail on Capitol Hill. You protect yourself as best you can without altering the basic rhythm of your life.
I hate to say this, but I do believe many psychiatric professionals encourage people to get in touch with their fear because it's good for business. Call me cynical, but those shrinks want to get at the "root causes" of your anxiety for $100 an hour.
Well, this column is free, and I'll tell you this: It is more than a million to one chance that you'll come down with anthrax poisoning or have the plane you're flying on hijacked. The huge odds are that you and your family will be fine. Right now, the flu is a greater threat to Americans than any terrorist.
And think about your children. If you are visibly frightened, what must they be feeling? Deal with your fear methodically and quietly for their sake.
If you can't shake the dread, OK, give the shrink a call. Maybe he or she can help you, although it doesn't seem to be doing Tony Soprano much good.
But, in the end, the shrink is just a hired hand. What it always comes down to is you, alone, against nature. Ol' Mother Nature gives you a certain amount of time on this earth, and then the bill comes due. There's nothing you can do to stop it. So don't waste the precious moments you are given being afraid of what you can't control.
Live well and with dignity. That trumps fear every
10/26/01: Show me the money