We live in a increasingly scary world these days. Reports of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and other horrific acts of violence dominate our social media feeds and news outlets. It seems like no place is safe from the possibility of unexpected danger or terror.
And that’s the way terrorists, mass killers, and others who are filled with hatred toward one group or another want it to seem. Our fear gives them the power they so desperately seek. It feeds them. It tells them that what they are doing is working. It tells them that they’re winning.
We can’t do that. We can’t let them think for a second that they are winning.
The truth is, things are not quite as bad as they seem. Despite the bombardment of media reports, we are living in one of the safest times in human history overall, especially here in the United States. We have to remember that when someone tries to convince us otherwise, either through violence or through sensationalizing violence. Despite how frightened we might feel, we can’t give in to our fear.
Hate and fear go hand in hand. I think most reasonable people instinctively know this. But the inverse is also true: Love and courage are close partners in the battle against extremism. If we really want love to win, if we truly believe that love is stronger than hate, then we have to exercise courage. Fear does nothing but empower those who hate.
The problem, of course, is that we’re talking about our children here. It’s easier to walk through the world courageously alone than to grab our kids’ hands and bring them along with us. What if we happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? How would we ever forgive ourselves if something happened to them?
I try to ask myself the reverse question: How could I forgive myself if I keep my kids from enjoying life because of fear? That’s no way to live, especially when the risks are still minuscule in comparison with things we do every day. The most dangerous thing parents do is drive a child around in a car, and yet that’s something most of us do several times a day without much thought.
While I will always feel a bit more on edge in crowded places, I will not avoid them due to fear. The truth is that there are so many opportunities for people who wish to do others harm, and 99.99+ percent of the time, no one takes advantage of them.
Our family lived in the Chicago suburbs for 12 years, and we would frequently ride the Metra commuter train into the city. Sometimes during those trips I would think about all the different ways someone could commit a terrorist attack on our route. (I know, that’s weird, but my anxious brain goes there.) I found so many ways it could happen, even without a lot of intricate planning. If someone wanted to blow up a lot of people at once in Chicago, it really wouldn’t be difficult.
And yet, Metra provided over 80 million passenger trips just in 2016 alone without incident. That fact and what I know from personal experience tells me that the risks really are small. Not that it couldn’t happen. Of course it could. But statistically, Americans are more than 12 times more likely to be killed by choking on food than they are to be killed by a terrorist. (And just FYI, you’re more than 12,000 times more likely to be killed by your food than by a refugee who turns out to be a terrorist.)
The truth is that anyone at any time could be the victim of any number of violent crimes. But the vast majority of people are good. The vast majority of people aren’t killers. The vast majority of people just want to live their lives in peace. We can’t let fear of a statistically small chance of something happening prevent us from living full lives, no matter how scary the news stories feel — especially when stoking fear is exactly the purpose of those events.
I refuse to let fear win, and I will teach my kids to do the same. I will continue to take them on public transportation. I will continue to take them to zoos, concerts, museums, and peace gatherings. I will teach them to be wise and prepared, to be careful when there is reasonable cause for concern, but not to be paranoid about what-ifs everywhere they go.
I will teach them to reject fear and hate when it rears its ugly head, and remind them to choose courage and love every time.