“You really have to be careful nowadays…”

“With all the crazy people out in the world nowadays…”

I was sitting at work this morning when everyone’s phone buzzed in close succession. We had all received the same Amber Alert; a missing 15-year-old from the local town.

Naturally, this set off a discussion. Does anyone know her? Her family? Did it say where she was last seen. I hope she’s okay. Did you hear about that man in Seattle who hacked up his girlfriend?

Wait — what?

I mean, I hadn’t heard about that. But I have now, thanks to your 20 minute conversation. Scary stuff. It sounds like something they would make into an episode of Criminal Minds.

“You really have to be careful nowadays.”
“If I were dating now, I’d want to know everything about the person. Do they have a criminal record? Do they have anger issues?”

Wait — what?

Many of my coworkers are GenX’ers or older. I’m one of approximately four millennials in the office (approximately, depending on how you define millennial). It creates an interesting dynamic, since many of them have children my age. Sitting at my desk often gives me a very intriguing insight into how they view the younger generations and the world in which we all are currently living.

And man, they are paranoid.

In an effort to try to avoid sweeping generalizations; I do live in an area with an extremely high retention rate. Not many people leave the comforts of their hometown. Perhaps my coworkers are affected differently by these news stories than the general population.

But I don’t think that’s the case. I’m pretty sure we’re all growing increasingly paranoid, and I blame the media.

An Example.

“I hate getting stuck behind school busses in the morning! They stop at every other house. Why can’t they just make one stop per neighborhood, like they used to when I was a kid?”

This was a hot debate topic in my house when I was a kid. I was sent to a rural public school. So rural, in fact, that there was only one other school aged kid on my street that wasn’t Amish. My parents fought to have my bus stop moved so that I wouldn’t have to walk a quarter mile down the road to share the stop with my neighbor.

I was grateful for the later wake-up time, but I also remember asking my mom “Why? Nothing is going to happen to me if I walk down the street.”

“Because I can’t see you.”

The funny thing is, the Amish children walk about a mile to school every day. All of them. Every day. Are they abducted more frequently than English children?

Have abductions been on the rise? I mean, truly, really. Have abductions been on the rise?

It’s a strange situation. Despite all the nostalgic posts on Facebook about ‘simpler times’ where kids could spend all day outside unsupervised and parents would not have to fret, people have become convinced that their backyards are no longer safe places; that their neighborhood is filled with creeps and violent individuals. They have become convinced that if they go out alone at night, they will in fact be mugged or raped; that their children will be stolen if they are left alone in the yard.

Even my own mother had fallen into this set of beliefs, despite surviving her very unsupervised childhood in the 1970’s. Has the world really become that terrible of a place in the last 40 years?

Or, could it be the case that the media is causing an unrealistic panic?

Sharks.

It’s a fin! It’s a shark! It’s… it’s some boats. Sorry to disappoint.

Sharks are cool, guys. Really cool. You know what’s not cool? That friend that we all have that spends hella money for a week at the beach and DOESN'T EVEN SWIM IN THE WATER. I mean, what is the point?! Sand is hot! Cool your body! Just put your feet in, jfc.

“Oh but, there are sharks. I’m scared to get in the water.”

Why? What is going to happen to you? Really, honestly, think about this. It’s so unlikely that you will ever be attacked by a shark, even if you were to go swimming in the ocean every day of your life. Why, if you’re so scared of sharks, do you drive cars? You’re far more likely to lose a limb — or heaven forbid, die — in a car crash than you ever are at the fins of a shark.

So why are we so scared of sharks?

“Shark attacks are so common nowadays. It’s crazy.”

No. No they are not. It happens, yes, but has it been on the rise? You know what is more common nowadays? News articles about shark attacks. TV shows about shark attacks. Movies about shark attacks. Did we have these things 50 years ago? No. But we had sharks. In fact, sharks have been around for millions of years. I don’t think they’re going to suddenly change millions of years of habit for us puny humans. We aren’t that important.

Is there something in the air that is making people crazy? Are we being fed toxins from birth that create an increase of murderers and creeps? No? Then what the hell are we so afraid of?

There aren’t any sharks in your back yard.

It always breaks my heart to get an Amber Alert. And yes, these things do happen. It is a sad reality.

But we shouldn’t let the media scare us.

An Amber Alert is a tool which can get important news out to lots of people very quickly. It replaces “missing” posters and photos on milk cartons. It’s easier to produce an Amber Alert message, which means it can be used more often. It is a very helpful tool, but I’m not sure we should draw conclusions on society from it.

Example: Five children go missing in the county. Only one of them is from your town. Forty years ago, you would have only seen missing posters for the child in your area. Now, however, you receive phone messages for all five children. Hell, go on Facebook, and you’ll receive messages about dozens of missing children who aren’t even in your state. It would appear that abductions are on the rise, simply because the noise surrounding them has gotten louder and reaches more people.

Thirty years ago, would any of my co-workers heard of the violent Seattle man? Not unless it made national news. But today, it’s in our pockets, our purses, our computer screens. It fills the gaps between bigger stories and soon everyone across the country knows of another Criminal Minds case that became reality.

What do we have to gain by giving in to this paranoia? Distrust breeds further distrust. We distrust the man next door, so we never get to know him. We fear our neighborhoods because we do not know our neighbors. We keep our children at arms length and they never learn to live in the world around them. When they are adults, will they get to know their neighbors?

And so the cycle continues.

How do we break this cycle?

I really don’t have the answers to anything. It’s much more complicated of an issue than a simple rant typed on my lunch break can unpack. But perhaps we could start with having a little faith. It does seem like the world is falling to pieces. But have a little faith: there are less wars happening at this present time than at any other time in history. That’s pretty cool.

Have faith that the man walking behind you on the street is going to mind his own business. Have faith that your child will return safely from a walk down the block. Have faith that the next time you dip your feet in the ocean, the sharks will not eat you whole.

Take cautions, but have faith. Don’t lose hope in the humanity of your neighbors. We’re all living in this crazy world together.

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