I recently wrote about empathy, about giving people the benefit of the doubt, and how we really need more of it.
I thought of this as I read an article recently that talked about Trump’s travel ban, and it’s impact on three people. Sadly, this article was taken down shortly after I read it, but I’m assuming it was done to protect the man in Alabama I will discuss shortly.
You don’t have to look very far to hear the stories of people affected by it in a negative light, up to and including a US-born NASA scientist. As with many of the news stories about the ban, this article began with the heart-breaking tale of a woman who had aided the US in the Iraqi war, was targeted by terrorists because of it, and trying to get to the US for her own safety. It talked of an American man who’d married an Iranian woman and couldn’t get her and his daughter into the US even though they had green cards.
Remember, if it bleeds, it leads.
Empathizing with these people is easy. The news makes it easy. But none of those events are unique to this story.
What was different, however, was the article spoke of an Alabama man who was happy about the ban. After hearing all the stories of terrorism, he was relieved that something was being done to protect him.
This man hadn’t felt safe at baseball games or even the store. He feared any area where large groups of people congregated because that’s where terrorists struck. He didn’t give up going to his favorite sports events because he thought that would be caving into the terrorists, but he felt truly afraid.
Let’s remember that in fiction, no one usually sees themselves as the “bad guy”. The books on craft drill that into our heads.
I doubt this gentleman from Alabama saw himself as a “bad guy” either. He truly felt afraid. He wanted to be safe, and he cited the events in France and Belgium as reasons for his fear.
What he didn’t know, what the news hadn’t informed him of, was that the total number of American citizens that died due to terrorism from 1995 to 2014 – that’s twenty years – was 3,503. That includes the 2,910 people that died on September 11th.
In 2014, 42,773 people died by committing suicide. The really scary stuff? According to the CDC, in 2013 approximately 610,000 Americans died of heart disease. Yeah. One in four American deaths was due to heart disease.
Had the news given as much weight to things that posed the most threat to this man, terrorism wouldn’t be his top concern. He’d be demanding roasted kale and orange slices (two foods known to help in the battle against heart disease) as he watched his sports games while jogging on a treadmill.
Was this man genuinely afraid? I think he was. It’s possible this man has never met a man or woman from any of the nations impacted by the travel ban. He may not have ever met a Muslim. Only 0.2% of Alabama’s population is Muslim. It may be difficult for him to separate out “bleeding” new bites from reality.
While each person is accountable for their emotions and how they respond to them, I think the news media also needs to accept some accountability. How many images of terrorist attacks have filled our screens? How many times did we watch the planes hit the towers? See the aftermath of bombings?
And it happens every time there’s an attack. We’re bombarded by images. This becomes our reality, what we fear, rather than heart disease.
I’ve seen some accuse the media of being accomplices to the attackers by helping them spread the fear that their attacks were intended to generate.
I doubt this is intentional.
You see, fear sells. If it bleeds, it leads. And what is more terrifying to us than terrorism? Thinking you’re going to punch the clock like any other day, but instead, a plane is flown into your workplace.
Not only does it sell, but we’ve become addicted to fear, and for-profit news companies know it. They know how to get us to tune in and keep us coming back.
If you think about Maslow’s Hiererchy of needs, safety ranks as more important than sex. So if sex sells, you better believe fear does. Our ancestors knew this. Go back and look at those original fairy tales if you don’t believe me or the research.
News capitalizes on this, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m avoiding the news.
Was this Alabama man practicing empathy for the people this ban affected that weren’t terrorists? Doubtful. But, I’m betting he was afraid, and if he votes, I’m betting that fear influences his vote.
I know fear can influence me and make me do things I regret or keeping me from doing things that I regret not doing.
What about you? Do you let fear influence your decisions? Do you watch the news? If so, do you find it be full of fear-mongering?