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COLUMN: The scared straight strategy

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:46 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There is a woman I occasionally run into who never fails to warn everyone she meets of the necessity for Americans to be on constant guard against foreign terrorists. Most people contend that her outcry is the result of her right-wing fundamentalist religious beliefs and associations. Personally, I avoid getting into these kinds of discussions because they invariably lead nowhere.

I realize that keeping people scared out of their wits is one of the latest political strategies designed to get people to vote one way or another. The fact that many people seem to fall for it shows how much Americans have changed from the rugged individualists they used to be. If this scare tactic had worked in the 19th century, no one would have ever gone West.

Still, when I listen to many discussions by what I consider to be everyday people, something in the conversation is usually said that reminds me very much of the woman's shrill cry. This is because it seems to me there is a stress level that undermines many of our thoughts and deeds that's cause remains nameless. Whether that stressor is the threat of foreign terrorists or fear of the bogeyman, there seems to be a certain amount of tension present these days, even when we are talking about our personal lives. And frankly, I'm not sure we know why the tension exists.

Perhaps the conclusion that some have come to is the right one. These people insist that our world is so complicated that everyone is too overwhelmed by things to even identify the causes of their stress. Individuals seem to be confused as to whether it is their spouse, their children, their job, their lack of finances or their friends that are wreaking such havoc on their lives that they have such a hard time coping.

Added to the fact that taking responsibility for creating one's own problems is so out of style , it merits very little consideration when blaming something or someone else is the going thing to do. When they have finally squeezed the last ounce of sympathy from those closest to them, these people wind up on a consultant's couch or find a support group.

Apparently, social networking by the hour doesn't seem to quiet the stress, otherwise one session would calm their tensions. The fact that they have to go on endlessly obviously means the anxiety is still present. This social dilemma has led some, I am told, to become addicted to all kinds of things, even exercising. Furthermore, the continued acquisition of "stuff" does not seem to fill the vacancy inside their heads.

I don't know what it is about our lifestyles that make us so discontented. This is another one of those areas of our lives that needs to be explored by experts. So many married people want to be divorced and so many divorced people want to be married. No one seems to be content with whatever situation prevails.

Personally, I think a lot of this confusion has come about because we have confused television programming with real life. I can still remember, for instance, a woman I worked with who actually said when she was about to move away that she wanted to live her life like the people who starred in the old television series "Hart to Hart." In other words, she wanted to live the wealthy, free and unencumbered life she saw portrayed on the screen each week. I suspect such dreams reverberate in the minds of many individuals as their lives drone on through the dull, troublesome melodramas that represent their actual existence.

I think this is just another example of the way we fail to recognize the harm our electronic toys do to our lives. It is really not enough any longer merely to say that a lot of people are confusing make-believe with reality. I think this problem has escalated into gigantic proportions and is on its way to becoming a mental disorder.

It's gotten beyond the point of people duplicating the fashions that celebrities wear, they have gotten into changing their actual physical appearance to resemble their idol. How much psychological training does one have to acquire to recognize the dangers of that kind of behavior?

With all the political and social turmoil in our society, it's easy not to accept that our real problems may be closer to home than we want to believe.

Perhaps we need to look more at ourselves and the people in our world before we look beyond.

It may be an idea that's time has come.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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