Terrorism and Ebola – How Worried Are You?

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.

Terrorism and Ebola - How Worried Are You?
Terrorism and Ebola – How Worried Are You?
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?

( Photo by kudomomo )

6 Responses to Terrorism and Ebola – How Worried Are You?

  1. I really love the conclusions you came to here. The media is constantly trying to drum up hysteria in order to sell their product. Getting wrapped up in the latest “crisis” is only going to lead someone down the path of despair.

    ISIS is a terrible organization doing terrible things in the Middle East, but there is no evidence that they pose any real threat to the average person outside of that region. There is no sense getting worked up into the thinking that you are in immediate danger especially if you live in the US. Unless someone plans to actually go and help in person somehow, the best way to spend your energy thinking about this organization is to pray for those that are in immediate danger.

    As far as Ebola, this is just the latest disease that will supposedly kill us all. Yes, this has tragically claimed the lives of 4,000 people, but it pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands (and millions) of lives lost each year to things like influenza and having no access to potable drinking water. (but those don’t bring viewers to CNN, etc)

    Like you said, pursue your passions and have faith in God. Stressing about extremely remote “threats” is doing a disservice to you and your loved ones.

  2. I agree with your points, all of them. But I’d like to add that we can also support the local population by contributing money toward missions that support local missionaries on the ground in foreign countries.

    So far it does appear that ISIS is mostly about what is happening in that part of the world, as if they’re reclaiming the countries for themselves. In that regard, we have to understand that they see us as foreign invaders, and they want us out. We don’t have much evidence that they’ve taken their activities outside the region. And if they do get control of the various countries in the region, they will be the official government and not so much a terrorist organization. That will force them to be more responsible.

    We may have to accept that we won’t get pro-western governments in those countries, and make the best of it. I personally think the best response we can have as a nation is to go full tilt with energy independence so that a) we’re not desperately reliant on their oil, and b) we cut off their funding.

    I strongly agree that a lot of the current fear is being drummed up by the media. “If it bleeds it leads”, and in a sick sort of way, they love story threads like ISIS and ebola. The media live for that sort of thing, and being media junkies as a society, we fall for it every time.

  3. I’ m not too worried about Ebola because it isn’t transmitted through air and it’s mostly body contact with fluids. It is something we need to keep in the back of our minds though if it breaks out any further.

  4. Hi Alexis – I agree, because it may be too early to assess the level of risk. Is it isolated cases, or the beginning of a pandemic? We don’t know yet. Also, there are other diseases that have taken far more lives, not to minimize the 4,000 lives lost to date. That may be why work on a cure has been so slow in coming.

  5. The thing that scares me more than the actual threats you discuss, is the fact that our government seems reluctant to do anything to protect the citizens of this country. I don’t know if it is political correctness, apathy, or incompetence, but the powers that be seem to be quite removed from the impact these threats are having on the citizens. They really don’t seem to care at all. (I must respond to the comment that ISIS doesn’t impact anyone outside of the region. I’m sure many people said the same thing about Hitler and the Nazis).

  6. Hi Kathy – My thought on why the government doesn’t seem to be responding is that they don’t have an effective way of doing so. As I wrote in the post, we’ve spent at least a trillion dollars over 13 years – and sacrificed thousands of lives – battling terrorism, and now we have ISIS. We may have to accept that nothing can be done. And in a weird way, our involvement in the countries of the region may have fueled some of this activity by giving them a an enemy to unite against. It’s one of the under-appreciated risks of foreign adventures. And as far ebola, it’s been around for nearly 40 years and no one has come up with a cure. We may have to live with that threat as well.

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