The phony fear-mongering that has gripped the country since the election of the evil Donald Trump is a reminder to keep your head while those around you are losing theirs. There’s no question that life is fraught with dangers, but most are grossly overplayed.
Take flying, for example. A large percentage of the population fears getting on an airplane, but statistics belie those fears. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that you will not die in a commercial plane crash. Trust me, I’m not omniscient. My guarantee is based on facts — data that tell me that your odds of dying in a commercial plane crash are about one in 11 million.
My gosh, your odds of being killed by a shark are one in 3.7 million! And your odds of being killed in a car crash are one in 5,000. Some in the airline industry even claim that you are more likely to die in an airport than on a flight.
So, yes, I can say with certainty that you will not die in a plane crash. I can also say with certainty that you will not become a billionaire. And I can say with certainty that you will not win the lottery. Sure, all these things happen to someone, but I’m willing to bet they won’t happen to you. It’s all a matter of odds.
On the other hand, I won’t bet against your dying in an automobile accident. Nor will I bet against your becoming a millionaire. And I also won’t bet against your occasionally winning a lot of money in Las Vegas (though I will bet that you’ll end up losing over the long term). Again, it’s a matter of odds.
That said, fear is a perfectly normal and necessary emotion for survival. Rational fears can keep you alive by motivating you to act with prudence, but irrational fears can destroy your life. If I know a fear is rational, I do what I can to swing the odds in my favor and proceed with caution. Caution is not fear; it’s prudence. But if I know a fear is irrational, I am purposely defiant, because I don’t want it to wield any power over me.
As an example, I have never hesitated to fly on Friday the 13th. To fear being airborne on that “bad luck” day would be irrational, because aviation records covering more than sixty years of commercial flight reveal that there have been no more fatal airline crashes on Friday the 13th than on any other day.
An even better example, and one in which I admit to having been a tad uneasy, occurred on the tenth anniversary (December 3rd) of my survival of a Learjet crash, a crash in which the plane was totaled. I was scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to New York, and there was a lot of talk in the news about how strong the winds were going to be in New York the next day, December 3rd, which is when I would be arriving.
I could have postponed my flight for a day or so in the hopes that the winds would die down, but I purposely did not. You can be certain that it had nothing to do with bravery. I just didn’t want a fear of flying in bad weather on an ominous anniversary date to have the power to dictate my schedule. The rational side of my brain knew that the odds were astronomically in my favor, especially because I had already been in a plane crash on that very date ten years earlier.
Even so, once the plane began approaching the New York area, it was like being on an ocean liner being tossed about by gale-force winds. But guess what? My plane did not crash, nor did any of the other hundreds of airliners that flew into LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark that evening.
Which brings me to two schools of thought that are diametrically opposed. One is that “you can’t live in a glass bubble,” what will be will be, so a devil-may–care attitude is the most practical way to live your life. This attitude is prevalent among teenagers, who talk and act as though they are absolutely convinced of their immortality.
I speak from firsthand experience, because looking back on my youth I am convinced that I was illegally insane. (Yes, that’s worse than being legally insane.) I can count at least a dozen situations I got myself into that nearly resulted in my death, but, through the grace of God, I’m still here.
Much to everyone’s surprise, however, over time I actually grew up. And, as an adult, I long ago concluded that one of the most important rules of life is that moderation is almost always the best policy. By moderation, I mean living life to the fullest, but being sensible about staying away from situations where the odds in favor of something very bad happening are higher than I’m willing to accept.
With adulthood, I also learned something else even more important, and I learned it through firsthand experience. Earlier, I said that irrational fears can destroy your life. More than physical harm, what I had in mind was the fear of not being accepted — i.e., a preoccupation with status.
Such a preoccupation is not likely to kill you; it will kill you — emotionally and psychologically. And it’s likely to be a slow and painful death, because if you harbor a fear of not being approved by others, you will be motivated to take actions that will destroy your self-respect and dignity. And when you lose your self-respect and dignity, you become a full-fledged member of the walking dead.
An irrational fear like worrying about being on a doomed airliner is not all that hard to overcome. All you need do is look up the statistics and it’s easy to conclude that it’s not worth fretting about.
A much bigger challenge, however, is overcoming the irrational fear of losing ground in the status derby that the late Tom Wolfe wrote about so eloquently. As I said, such a fear is guaranteed to kill you — emotionally and psychologically — so if you insist on clinging to it, you do so at your own peril.
In fact, it is likely to yield the exact opposite of the results you’re after. A much better idea is to make a commitment to always be true to yourself, especially in this day and age of political intimidation and shaming.
Perhaps the best antidote to unwarranted worriment is to heed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” I wish I had come up with those words.