“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”
–– Edward R. Murrrow, 1954.
The greatest newsman in television history made that proclamation over a half-century ago, speaking of another crisis and another time. But it touches on a base note very much present in our society today.
We are afraid.
I see it on TV, in the press, online and encounter it in daily conversations. Fear, the urge to flee and pessimism about the world around us and the future seem to be as ubiquitous as Starbucks and bus benches.
The news media is partially to blame for this. We tend to amplify every crime, fire and mishap with featured treatment, as if each convenience store holdup is a sign of imminent apocalypse. In our defense I might say that sort of reporting brings more readership – more clicks – than a sober discussion of school curriculum changes or land use policy and is therefore a necessary venial sin justified to retain a large audience.
As newspaper titan Joseph Pulitzer said in the 1880s, “I want to speak to the community, not a committee.”
But that assumes that the consumers of such news put it in perspective, that 7-11 robberies have been commonplace for decades and that we do not live in the Perfect States of Utopia but the real-world United States of America.
I was struck by a recent social media post in which someone proclaimed they would no longer patronize a shopping center in the west side of town “because I don’t feel safe there.” Another person justified moving to another city to avoid the “riff raff” she encountered.
People tell me of their plans to leave the state to ditch the traffic, crime, homelessness, etc. of the Golden State. Well, good luck with that. Those problems will follow you wherever you go, and you may even bring them with you.
The community of Moreno Valley, for example, grew quickly as a place for folks fleeing the gang problems in Los Angeles. However, after a few years, they discovered that there was a gang problem in their new hometown. It seems that some of the sons and daughters of the refugees had carried the “gang germ” into the “safe suburbs.”
Our ancestors – whether they came here on the Mayflower or to Ellis Island or on the Middle Passage from Africa or across the Rio Grande – were courageous souls. They braved many dangers. They hacked a home out of the wilderness with their bare hands. They faced up to every threat and triumphed, even if the path to victory was sometimes frightening or deadly.
Now, it seems, many of those descendents of valiant souls are ready to cut and run because they spotted a homeless person in the Vons parking lot, or saw “too many” people of a different skin color moving into the neighborhood.
We cannot outrun reality and even if we could, we will soon run out of space. Our country, our communities are not disposable items like cheeseburger wrappers to be tossed away like litter.
This is the greatest nation in the world not because it has been problem-free but because we have always been willing to confront big problems, master them and go on to greater heights.
Optimism is not to be equated with naïveté. Success and progress have been the story of America, much more than misery and failure. With work, courage and cooperation, we have been able to go to the moon, defeat great tyrannies and liberate hundreds of millions of people.
In the film “The Wind and the Lion,” a U.S. diplomat says that someday his nation will build a road through the Moroccan desert.
“The desert is like the sea,” he was told. “You cannot build a road on the sea.”
“We can,” came the response. “We’re Americans. We can do anything.”
And indeed we can. Across the nation and down the street. But the first step is to no longer be afraid.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on alternate Wednesdays.
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