Do not fall for scare tactics

Boo! Did I get you? Probably not. But it is the season of scares. The season during which, for example, someone might sneak up on another person clearly absorbed in a household task and wait until that person turns her head to lurch near her face and shout HAH! That person might very well then fall to the ground shrieking and doing her best to pretend she is actually laughing …

Anyway, the point is, there are people out there looking for ways to scare folks right now. For the most part, this is harmless fun. A little startle, a little yelp, no big deal. But on the larger scale, there are people looking for ways to scare the general population that are not so harmless.

Working in a newsroom means I get to see the stories from which these scares are plucked. I also get to see the agendas to which those news stories are then bent. Often the same story is manipulated by parties on multiple sides of an issue, each hoping for opposing results.

An example appeared out of Oregon several days ago, when a shooter killed nine people at Umpqua Community College. From the president on down, the issue instantly became a political one. And one in which so many scare tactics were used, the real story was forgotten before it had all been discovered.

Be afraid of guns. Be afraid of people who want to take your guns. Be afraid of those who fall on the autism spectrum. Be afraid of bad parents. Be afraid of those who run their mouths. Be afraid of the quiet ones.

There are other stories, of course. Be afraid of the chemical produced by a local employer. Be afraid of losing that local employer. Be afraid of global warming. Be afraid of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Be afraid of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, ISIS … or be afraid of your own federal government.

When leaders want to inspire public opinion these days, too often they first try to instill fear. Provoke a knee-jerk emotional reaction, and the votes will follow. Leave it until after the election for anyone to worry about the facts, the law and the Constitution.

Forgive me for quoting “Star Wars,” but I do not think I can say it better than “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Now, of course, fear doesn’t always lead to anger and hate. But certain kinds of fear can certainly point someone in the direction of hate. It all starts to circle around in a “The only thing we have to fear is fear, itself,” kind of way.

That is why it is so cringe-inducing to listen to the pundits who almost seemed to have been waiting for another tragedy to occur so they could spout the reasons we should all be afraid and come round to their points of view.

It is easy to confuse a little twinge of fear with agreement when someone says “This tragedy would never have taken place if we had stricter gun laws,” or “If the government takes away the guns of law-abiding citizens, only criminals will have guns.”

We’ve got to be more rational than that, folks. We’ve got to recognize when someone with an agenda – any agenda – is using a horrific tragedy, playing with our emotions and counting on us to not dig too deeply into the matter for ourselves.

Fear is not an easy thing to master. That is why it is wielded so frequently. But even if our initial reaction to being frightened is beyond our control (I would have to pick myself up off the floor if someone startled me while I am absorbed in typing this, I am sure), our next steps are entirely in our control. We can fall in to the hysteria and follow where the fear monger is leading us, or we can step back, ask some questions, think carefully about the next steps to take.

Now, which option is scarier.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com