The Blog

Sept 11: What Are You Afraid Of?

All of the non-stop terror talk contributes to a deterioration in our national character. Fear makes people more mistrustful, more prejudiced, and less compassionate to their neighbors, local or otherwise.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

I assume that in my lifetime, I'll see more than a few terrorist attacks like the one that occurred on 9/11. Some will be large, others small. I'm afraid of them, but more in the way that I'm afraid of falling off a cliff when I go hiking up a steep mountain: could happen to me, but it probably won't. What scares me is the way that all of the non-stop terror talk contributes to a deterioration in our national character. Fear makes people more mistrustful, more prejudiced, and less compassionate to their neighbors, local or otherwise. It makes them less likely to participate in politics or join social groups. Labeling others as terrorists trivializes whatever real gripes they have against us in the broad brush of history. It dehumanizes them and paves the way for military campaigns that contribute to an increase in the likelihood of future attacks. It decreases the probability of finding a lasting, non-violent solution to complex international problems.

At the domestic level, talk of terrorists justifies spending more on guns and less on books and infrastructure. Most cities in the U.S. are facing 15 percent budget cuts that will close more libraries and further decrease child education and health care. By 2010, our funding for elementary and secondary education, already in crisis, will be cut by 4.6 billion dollars. This means that 670,000 fewer women and children will receive assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program. It also means that 370,000 fewer low income families, the elderly, and the disabled will receive rental assistance. Think it won't affect you? Think again.There are millions of people on the fringes of society being driven into greater despair and desperation because we continue to shred the safety net that every other industrialized nation guarantees as a birthright -- other countries that, long ago, recognized that investment in infrastructure and safety nets are the most effective and the least expensive way to prevent crime and social deterioration.

So, I don't worry so much about being killed in the next terror attack that's supposed to come from "over there" -- the one that gives us the Code Orange at the airport when the threat is presumably elevated. I worry about the Code Red that comes from the kid over here who has no future, no education, and nothing to lose because we have given him no reason to believe that people care about what happens to him. THAT is what we should be afraid of.

A frequent guest on the Today Show and NPR, Dr Coleman has also appeared on ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, the BBC, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, and NBC television. His new book, WHEN PARENTS HURT: COMPASSIONATE STRATEGIES WHEN YOU AND YOUR GROWN CHILD DON'T GET ALONG (HarperCollins) was released in July, 2007. Dr. Coleman is an internationally known expert in parenting, couples, families, and relationships with a practice in SF and Oakland and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families. Sign up today for Dr. Joshua Coleman's FREE monthly ezine at www.drjoshuacoleman.com or whenparentshurt.com.