Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On Fear

Fear is a funny thing.

On 9/11, I had just gotten to work when a co-worker told me about the first plane striking the World Trade Center, and together we were watching live TV when the second struck. I was just across the river from the Pentagon when it was hit -- I could see the smoke from my building. When we were told to go home, I walked rather than take the Metro, because if I were a terrorist, that would be an obvious target. But I walked several blocks South of the most direct route, in case the Capitol was targeted.

In the wake of what transpired that day, I wasn't afraid. Even though I live about a mile from the Capitol, and so am at a proverbial Ground Zero, I don't worry about the next strike -- I just want to live my life. Still, fear has affected me -- Kathy's fear is what led us to buying a car after 9/11 (at the time we didn't have one). It's certainly come in handy, but many times I've joked with her about how, should we need to flee the city, getting the car will enable us to be stuck in endless traffic with everyone else. And that's another part of living in DC -- you can either cower in fear of the next attack, or live your life -- an attack either will come or it won't, but worrying about it is of little help.

I guess I can't understand why people are so afraid. Six imams were forced off a plane because of the fears of other passengers, and even though nothing was found, they were refunded their money and refused access to another flight from the airline. Why would a group of terrorists be the equivalent of penguins in Bermuda shorts in drawing attention to themselves as was alleged? Fear can make people incredibly paranoid, and I expect that it was such fear that led to the accusations in the first place -- some people are predisposed to assume the worst about Muslims.

On a more personal level, this past week during Thanksgiving, I thought it perfectly reasonable to let an average 9-year-old go to the bathroom in a restaurant without adult accompaniment (this was a hypothetical -- the 4-year-old was the one who had to go). I don't mean to suggest that it's not possible for a kidnapping to take place at a steakhouse, but it seems so unlikely to me as to not be worth adjusting your behavior for. It seems akin to not driving because there's the possibility of a carjacking. Admittedly, the cost-benefit analysis is skewed between these two (very little cost to escort a kid to the bathroom, very great cost to give up driving), but I just don't see the point of worrying about remote dangers. I acknowledge that I may feel differently when my daughter is nine, but I doubt it. Strangely, one of the people concerned about unaccompanied children seemed wholly unconcerned with the much greater risk associated when the next day someone climbed up an unsteady 30-foot ladder to hang Christmas lights.

Fear is a funny thing.