This can be a difficult subject to discuss – which is I think exactly why we need to discuss it. Both terrorism and ebola have been in the news a lot lately, raising both public concern, and public fears. It’s not so much that either risk is so common that it warrants such fear, but more that the outcome of either can be so catastrophic. Then there’s the mystical “X” factor – that both threats seem to be beyond our ability to control them.
What’s At the Root of Our Fears of Both Terrorism and Ebola?
Despite all of our technology, and all of the government programs that exist, we live in The Great Age of Paranoia. Whether it’s the government, schools, the media, employers, “experts”, or family, friends and neighbors, we’re being told – relentlessly – that we need to be afraid.
Specifically what it is we’re supposed to be afraid of is a veritable greased pig. It can change in as little as a few days, but can also hang around societal shadows for several years.
Other than the fact that both terrorism and ebola are so recent, what is that we really fear?
We Have Been Unable to Defeat Terrorism
In the aftermath of 9/11 the government promised us that they would track down the terrorists and destroy them, and rid the world of that threat forever. Since then, we’ve spent more than a trillion dollars (collectively) to defeat the terrorists, our military has conducted two major invasions, privacy has been surrendered at the altar of safety, and traveling by air has become something of a routine shakedown.
But now, 13 years later, comes a fundamental Islamic group, loosely referred to as ISIS (though the exact label seems to be in a state of flux). They’ve quickly grabbed headlines by launching revolts in several countries, and of course with their practice of public beheadings, particularly of Westerners. Then the so-called Arab Spring that resulted in overthrows in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, has produced governments that we still don’t know to be friend or foe. Meanwhile, the Taliban seem to be gaining in Afghanistan.
So maybe our real fear in regard to terrorism is that after a costly, bloody, and exhaustive 13 year effort, we’ve failed to eradicate the bad guys in the Middle East. And it now seems that the latest edition of the terrorist wave that seems to have a permanent place in Middle Eastern culture are even nastier than Osama bin Laden and his gang.
The Return of The Plague
Ever since the Black Plague (or Black Death) that is believed to have killed one-third of the population of Europe – the world has been waiting for the next catastrophic plague. In fact if you do some research, it appears that the Black Plague was never actually cured – it just sort of went away. Hence both medical researchers and the public at large continue to worry about its return, in whatever form it might take. In just the past century or so, we’ve had a number of borderline and outright pandemics, including influenza, cholera, small pox, measles, tuberculosis, and HIV.
Each of these plagues have been substantially controlled (though none completely). But the fear continues that either we’ll see a resurgence of the Black Plague, or the development of a new pandemic that will defy all efforts to control it.
Ebola seems that it might be that kind of plague. The virus has been known to exist since at least 1976, and there have been several outbreaks since. But it has long been thought to be controlled, since the outbreaks have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. But now we are getting cases here in the US and Europe, and the first death from the virus has already taken place in the US.
There have been at least 8,000 known cases of ebola in Africa, with nearly half the cases resulting in death. Worse, as of now there is no known cure for the virus. Various therapies have been employed with the victims, but it’s not at all certain that any of them represent anything close to a cure.
Whether the concern is terrorism or the Ebola virus, we are surrounded by the twin demons of uncertainty as to the severity, and no reliable options as solutions. All that has been tried to date has failed.
These Are Two Threats Where Taking Better Care of Yourself Won’t Eliminate the Risk
We live in a world where we’re constantly being told to take control of our lives. Terrorism and ebola seem to exist outside of that strategy. As individuals, there is little that we can do to lower the risk of either threat. Avoiding high risk behaviors, saving more money or giving up smoking or alcohol – the usual solutions to what ever threat we face – are useless in the face of either terrorism or ebola.
We’re not used to such constraints. The usual path is to research the threat thoroughly, consider the popular solutions, choose the one that best fits our circumstances, implement a strategy without reservation – and then declare victory over the threat.
But now we face twin threats that exist outside the scope of that tried and true strategy. We may be living with threats that are completely beyond our control. When you combine that reality with the inability of the authorities to control either risk, fear is a natural result.
Taking Some Control of the Uncontrollable
Despite the fact that both terrorism and Ebola seem to be virtually uncontrollable – at least at this point time – is there anything we can do to keep us from succumbing to panic?
The answers will be different for everyone, but here’s what I’ve pieced together, and it’s working for me:
Understand that life has always been more uncertain than we ever admit to ourselves. Not to minimize either terrorism or ebola, but life has always been fraught with risks. Modern society has always managed to keep us at least superficially insulated from that fact. But right up until the present time, there have always been wars, senseless deaths, cancer, heart disease, and a host of other threats. All are a lot more common than either terrorism or ebola, and they’re no less dangerous.
Accept that there are some things in life that cannot be fixed. Eight years ago this week, my father died of lymphoma. Despite what the doctors told us early on, the disease progressed so rapidly that treatments were completely ineffective. And last year, my oldest nephew died of a pulmonary embolism. Once again, nothing could be done to save him, and there was no time even if there was. No matter what we hear in the popular media, not all problems can be fixed. That’s something we’ve been unconsciously living with for all of our lives, but it’s worth reflecting on right now.
Have faith in God. It’s often said that there are no atheists in a foxhole, but what often escapes us is the fact that life itself is a foxhole. The Bible tells us that God is bigger than our problems, and even bigger than the world’s problems. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Ultimately, this is what my peace springs from. No matter what happens in this life, I know that I’m eternally secure. That frees me to move forward, and keeps me from immersing myself too deeply in the crisis du jour.
Vow to live a worthwhile life. There our bad things happening all around us, even if we don’t see them or choose to recognize them. But success in life is really a matter of finding happiness in a troubled world. It’s not the elimination of problems that define our success, but rather our ability to succeed in spite of those problems. Despite terrorism, ebola, or any other obstacle in our paths, we can still choose to live worthwhile lives. And by doing so, you’ll be a positive example to others.
Pursue your passions. If the threat of death by terrorism or ebola or any other crisis teaches us anything it’s pursue your passions – what ever they are. They’re excellent reminders that this journey called life is temporary. We aren’t here all that long, so it’s important to do what you feel passionately about, rather than living a robotic life in the pursuit of some imaginary form of security. As we’re seeing with both terrorism and ebola, there really is no security. That makes it even more important to do what you really like to do, and try make a positive difference for as long as you’re in the world.
Understand that we were all “doomed” from the beginning anyhow. Does that sound cold? I realize that it doesn’t fit neatly within the framework of 21st Century American Optimism, but it’s the reality of life. The moment you were born, it was certain that you were never going to get out of this world alive. Recognize and embrace that life truly is temporary, and that you have to do your best to maximize the time that you’ve been given.
Never give up! As Yogi Berra once said, It ain’t over till it’s over. Let that be your motto. As long as you’re still alive, it ain’t over! Most of us spend entirely too much time worrying about problems that will never visit us. Don’t be like this. As long as you’re alive, vow to live your life for all it’s worth, and to never give in to the fears and troubles that will always surround us.
It’s true that there isn’t much that we can do to eliminate terrorism or Ebola, or any other brewing crisis – at least not as individuals. But as individuals, we can choose to embrace life and to develop a sense of peace despite the headwinds.
How do you view your life within the context of terrorism and ebola?