[On Sundays, Career Calling looks away from careers to other aspects of life and work.]
Scary Things – Good & Bad
Boo! It’s Halloween, and children are dressed as ghosts, goblins, and superheroes. The weather is getting colder, but that doesn’t detract from the happy squeals of young people chasing candy and other goodies. Adults celebrate this holiday more and more each year. I was out with friends yesterday, and we saw many interesting costumes, including men dressed as a nurse and Wonder Woman. Halloween is funny – scary fun.
We’ve seen a different kind of scary work over the past few months – political commercials. It seems that all politicians from both main parties can do is try to tear each other down. We as voters have the great responsibility of hiring our leaders. How is that possible when all we get are attempts to scare us that the other “guy” (or gal) is a monster. I think of this in the context of what I do every day as a career coach and resume writer. My job is to discover and sell my clients’ strongest talents and skills. Our politicians today do the opposite to their opponent. Tear the other guy down, and hope the employer will pick me. What employer would hire such a person?
We are a society more and more driven by fear. Some tales of fear (horror movies, vampire tales) are just entertainment. We suspend our disbelief and let go in a world of monsters and terror. However, that same emotion has taken over the way many adults view all aspects of reality. The mere mention of 9/11 sends many people back to the emotions they felt on a tragic day nearly 10 years ago. Their fears often twist into paranoid political arguments and shrill anger. In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has shown how these emotions let cynical politicians make voters dance like puppets on a string.
In some ways, children are braver than adults. They go through the haunted house without being scarred. They’ll go back next year and enjoy the same dark rooms and ominous music. Too many adults have come to be paralyzed by fear. They accept a belief that gives them comfort, and then they refuse to test or challenge that belief. Juan Williams was fired from NPR for saying that he felt fear when he was on a plane with people in “Muslim garb.” That’s a Halloween problem with serious consequences (not for Williams, of course, because Fox gave him a $2 million a year contract extension). People wearing turbans (Sikhs, not Muslims) have been beaten because ignorant, fearful people think this is “Muslim garb.” As many of Williams’ detractors have pointed out, the terrorists on 9/11 were not dressed in any kind of ethnic clothing. They looked like every young male on the plane. However, that fact will not sway the fearful adult mind, especially in this political climate where ignorance rule. Fear trumps facts. Emotions overwhelm reason.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are many legitimate factors causing Americans to be afraid: unemployment, foreclosures, wage cuts, and a broken political system. My problem is that we are not solving those problems the right way. Most historians point to Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as two of our greatest presidents. Lincoln, facing a war that could split the country, called on his fellow citizens to live with “malice toward none, with charity for all.” FDR, at the height of the Depression, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” They challenged the American people to be better, stronger. Too many of our leaders today (following the example of snake oil salesmen like Glen Beck) want only weakness and fear.
Tomorrow the Halloween decorations will start coming down. Happily, the next night the political commercials will stop running (except here in Chicago where we have a mayoral election in February). Children will start looking forward to Christmas. Ghosts will give way to Santa Claus. Their scary days will be gone for a year. Sadly, for too many adults, being scared is all they know any more. It’s all cynical politicians want them to know. Boo! Don’t vote for the other guy – he’s a monster (or a Kenyan, or a socialist). Fear-fueled insults and name-calling have become a type of political discourse. The grown ups need to take a hard look at the kids – and grow up.