I'm not so sure of that. Not any longer.
Once the thought entered my mind that my great-grandmother was born in 1846 into a world population that was under two billion -- and that -- only 4 generations later --I'm living in a world of seven and-a-half-billion people, I've not slept well.
Several things came together in the stillness of those sleepless nights that have made me question the place that fear may have been meant to play in the human equation, particularly -- the differences between rational and irrational fear.
One was an incident from a time when I was working as an administrator in a treatment clinic for emotionally disturbed children. Over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich one warm lunch hour -- seated under a great walnut tree in Prof. Michael Cjaza's back yard I scanned through a case history of a 6 year-old adopted child of caring parents. He was surely acting-out, often with violence, from some deep-seated trauma. The symptoms were almost impossible for the family to either understand or to survive. It was the diagnosis that both surprised and puzzled me, while it presented an intriguing supposition that I'd find myself mulling over many times in later life.
The conclusion drawn by a brilliant young psychologist was that -- after an I.Q. test revealed that this youngster had an intelligence score of over 150, and was being parented by a couple with a combined I.Q. well within the low-normal range.
The result was that this child was living in a world in which -- even at six -- he could out-think those upon whom his life would depend, and that because of this he could not expect the protections that he would need in order to survive. The professional opinion was that his acting out grew from a general lack of security, and the inability to address it at his early age. He could not be expected to develop the tools with which to cope until much later in life. Fascinating? I've never forgotten his tragic story, and often wondered what happened to him. Would this lead him toward the life of a sociopath? This example of rational fear has returned often to cause wonder ... .
His story rose to the surface during the NPR interview last week. I'm not even certain of the connections, but here it was again. It was when I was asked about my optimism, and my answer reflected recent thoughts about the population explosion and the awesome scientifically-based environmental changes anticipated over the next several decades. Those world population figures are scary, and embedded in them is my sense that fear should be playing a larger role in our considerations these perilous days, and that if we're not afraid we're not paying attention.
The fact is that in my thirties I suffered a mental break that may have saved my life. It was at a time when I was living in a breaking marriage with four children whom I loved dearly topped by one approaching adolescence as a confused gay black male, and a toddler who was clearly mentally-retarded as the result of brain damage suffered at birth. I was living with all of this without the support of a husband with whom none of this could be discussed -- who was in denial about the gender issues with our eldest, and who also refused to recognize the mental deficits of our youngest child and only girl. He was struggling to support a family, with the demands of running a small business, and simply not capable of dealing with the problems posed by dealing with such volatile human issues. He was coping the best he could, I'm sure. The marriage ended after years of agonizing emotional pain.
All of this was occurring at a time when we were living day-to-day in a hostile suburban environment where racism was a constant element to be dealt with. My break was an appropriate response to what was going on around me. Mine were rational fears, and escape into a mental break was probably predictable and the only defense available to me at the time.
Enter, Betty the Artist ... .
But the over-riding factor -- and the one that lay beneath all of the daily problems -- was the fact that I had been slowly coming to the realization that I was living in and attempting to adjust to an irrational world. Fear became my protector in those awful times, contrarily, in a world where it could not be acknowledged as a legitimate response to the very real dangers that threatened my existence.
Once full recognition of the bizarre reality in which I was living, my therapy was over, and my real life began. I was not mad, the world was! The serious business of learning to live with and not deny my "madness" made survival possible, and does to this day.
The ultimate proof of that wild theory is that I was a citizen of a nation which -- under the leadership of that same trusted president -- had the audacity to have waged a war to save democracy with a segregated Army Forces which could only be diagnosed as delusional!
Anyone not living in fear at this moment in time may be a threat to humankind's ability to sustain itself -- not only as a nation, but as a species, and to begin to take the necessary steps to halt the planetary deterioration now clearly evident.
Maybe "... the only thing to fear is fear itself" is a truism that no longer serves us well.
For those of us who are fearful for the planet, be assured that such fears are rational. They need to activate us enough to break out of denial, and begin to put forth the effort needed to save the planet.
Mars is not the answer. It merely provides a great adventure on the way to Doom.
How I'd love a conversation with astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson before I take leave of this dimension... .
I so love his ability to make space make sense ... .
I wonder about his fears ...?
Dr. Tyson is one of the few intellectual leaders among us for whom I'm certain that Truth is more than merely curiosity satisfied.