We had our first Tornado warning of the year on Wednesday. According to the Government of Canada peak Tornado season in Southern Ontario are the months of June and July.
When I was a child I was deathly afraid of tornados. The thought that a storm could become so violent that it would whip the wind into a rotating funnel capable of uprooting trees, lifting houses off their foundations and tossing full sized pickup trucks around like toys was terrifying to me.
It all started when I was 8 years old. I grew up in a region of Ontario that the government had dubbed “tornado alley.” Every spring we would have to sit through a slide show and learn drills on what to do should a violent storm hit. It didn’t matter that the so called tornado alley usually only spawned one or two major storms a year or that the actual risk of injury was statistically insignificant (about the same as getting struck by lightning), what mattered, as one of my teachers put it, was that we had a healthy amount of “respect” for the weather.
The result for an 8 year old with a vivid imagination wasn’t a healthy amount of respect, it was complete terror. To this day I have never been able to sit through the opening sequence of the Wizard of Oz without first checking on the weather network.
One year, at the urging of one of my more intuitive teachers, I completed a science project on tornados. You see this teacher knew the key to overcoming fear was knowledge. I did my home-work; I learned everything there was to know about tornados, how they form, how they behave, how to predict them and how to react to them. Through it all a funny thing happened, my fear dissipated considerably.
You see, our imagination is far more powerful than we realize. We are constantly coming up with outrageous scenarios that start with “what if” or “what about”. The whole purpose of those types of questions is to paralyse us with fear and prevent us from taking appropriate action. The truly sinister thing is that businesses and government know this and they want us to be afraid, fearful people are easier to manipulate.
Advertisers play to our fears every day by emphasising the negative result and then hold out a ready-made solution. The entire modern advertising industry is based on fear and politicians are experts at manipulating it. MIT professor Noam Chomsky called the whole phenomenon “Manufacturing Consent.”
Every year, at the start of tornado season I remember my fears but I also remember what they have taught me. They taught me that knowledge is the key to conquering fear and how to recognize when fear is irrational. The only way to get over our fears is to confront them rationally. In doing so we can recognize them for what they are and react appropriately.
So now ask yourself a few questions;
1- What are you most afraid of?
2- When did you first realize you were afraid?
3- Was it something you came by naturally, or where you taught?
4- Who taught you to be afraid?
5- What was their motivation?
6- How did you react?
7- Have you done your home-work?
Remember what Franklin D Roosevelt said at the height of the great depression. “The Only Thing We have to Fear, is Fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I especially like the last half of that quote, most people stop with the first half but it’s important to note that the biggest problem with fear is that it paralyzes us and when that happens the battle is already lost.
The politics of fear and manipulation is a real spicy meatball. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of something big here. This might take a while to dig through and honestly I have no idea where I might end up, stick around, we’ll figure it out together.