No, this is not a “Sky is Falling” paranoia rant. It’s a story about warning flags and why we ignore them.
Right up front, let me confess to plagiarizing some of this from Dr. Jessica Fernandez at Spring Creek Church. In her July 24th sermon about Community (see it here), Jessica talked about her experience of moving from New York to Florida.
After three years of living in Florida and witnessing multiple hurricane warnings, most of which turned out to be false alarms, her family discounted the 2004 warnings about approaching Hurricane Charlie. They chose to ride it out. Needless to say, they ended up regretting their decision because Charlie turned out to be a cat 4 storm, followed closely and before people could regroup, by Francis (a Cat 2) and three weeks after that by Jean (a Cat 3). Florida, and the Fernandez family, got pounded mercilessly by a left-right-left from mother nature.
That last phrase was shamelessly anthropomorphic. Hurricanes are amoral. They do not kill with malice, nor are they benevolent when they precede themselves with terrific surf conditions. But they do kill with regularity, and if your experience with hurricanes is like mine – watching some nimrod tv reporter leaning into a torrential rain and fierce wind — you wonder about the stupidity of anyone who would choose to ride one out.
My assumptions were challenged by listening to Dr. Fernandez. Number one: she’s not a dumb person. They don’t hand out PhD’s to folks in the shallow end of the gene pool. Number two: Charlie wasn’t her first rodeo. She had seen other hurricanes come up the East Coast and she had endured three previous Florida hurricane seasons. Number three: She was not alone. Many other experienced Floridians made the same decision.
So why do intelligent people often ignore perfectly reasonable warnings? It’s simple: we’ve seen so many red flags that we’ve gone colorblind. Part of the reason is social media and the plethora of bogus information we see there. Another part is the news media.
About the same time Dr. Fernandez and her family were riding out Hurricane Charlie, an author named Michael Crichton published his book “State of Fear”. It’s a mystery novel with a twist. This book was written to expose the state of mass-media-driven hysteria in America. It includes a huge bibliography with reems of documentation. One of the things he documents is the shift in news coverage beginning in the early 1970’s. Increasing competition and falling sponsorship dollars drove many news organizations into the growing practice of hawking fear.
From a marketing perspective, nothing drives sales like fear that is viable, especially if your product or service offers a perceived antidote to that fear. Don’t believe be? Check out Crichton’s bibliography or read up on the history of organized religion in America. Fear sells. Adolph Hitler knew it. Mao Zedong knew it. Pol Pot knew it. The problem is that selling fear for the sake of fear, especially fear that is not viable, only leads to a jaded audience. Welcome to modern America where nobody any longer believes anything but everybody is scared of everything.
So, how do we discern the legitimate red flags among all the bogus ones. We can’t build a bomb shelter every time Joe Biden smarts off about Xi Jinping and we can’t hire a marriage counselor every time our spouse complains about the toilet seat position. Where is the fulcrum that separates reason from paranoia? If you have the answers, I’m all ears. Hit reply and let’s have coffee. Just don’t hesitate for fear of offending me.
Many thanks to Dr. Jessica Fernandez from Spring Creek Church, the victim of my merciless plagiarism. Click the link in my story above to get a sample of her speaking talent. Once you’re hooked, you can hear her live at Spring Creek Church in Garland. I might even buy you a coffee if I see you there. Yeah, they have a coffee shop.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
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State of Fear
— Michael Crichton
It’s old but it’s entertaining. It’s also a telling epistle about how we got where we are today. You don’t read too many mystery novels with footnotes at the bottom of every page but this one is worth it. The bibliography alone should be required reading for every Journalism and/or Political Science major.