Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 23, 2003

Taking a pass on nagging worry

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” – author Leo Buscaglia

Worry seems to have taken over modern society. I don’t know if it’s because of instant communications – any awful thing that happens anywhere on the globe is transmitted all over the world immediately, thanks to 24-hour news networks.

But all the blame doesn’t belong with CNN.

My mother, who for a while was a governess for a wealthy family, worked in a house built with doors between each bedroom so that family members could go from room to room without entering the hallway in case of a Lindbergh-style kidnapping attempt. This was decades before Headline News was a gleam in Ted Turner’s eye.

Our reactions to the highly publicized and tragic child kidnappings last summer aren’t so different than our grandparents’ were, even without round-the-clock news. It’s just that today, we have panic rooms.

The talking heads (experts on any topic who producers have at their beck and call) yakking endlessly whenever topics from mad cow disease to airplane hijackings and presidential colonoscopies make headlines don’t reduce worry levels.

We learn a lot from these experts, to be sure, but they also feed the fears of the worry-prone, who suddenly become convinced that they’ll develop swiss cheese brains from yesterday’s hamburger and that the next plane they board will head to Cuba. Meanwhile they’re making an appointment for an emergency scan of their bowels, which are probably emptying from uncontrolled fear, not illness.

Then there’s the terror alert system designed by the Department of Homeland Security. The five levels are supposed to help citizens, civil officials and law enforcement take appropriate actions based on the perceived likelihood of terrorist acts. Despite the levels, the Department of Homeland Security reminds us that, “At all threat conditions, we must remain vigilant, prepared, and ready to deter terrorist attack.”

I’d like to think that no matter what the threat level, a concerned citizen would report suspicious activity, such as non-farmers buying huge amounts of fertilizer. Beyond that, I’m not sure what John and Jane Q. Public can do. I don’t see much point for the general public in the color-coded threat levels besides helping them calculate how much more debt local governments incur every time the terror level is raised. And that’s just more cause for worry: terrorist attacks, higher taxes, spiking interest rates.

All the well-intentioned parenting books and experts spouting advice on how to raise safe, sane kids add fuel to the worry fire. We’re led to believe that every parental error – from a harsh word to a questionable video game, from only four servings of fruits and vegetables one day to too much (or not enough) homework – will leave our children with irreparable harm.

Then we’re told to baby-proof the house, helmet their heads, pad their shins and elbows and buckle them in car seats – all the while images of horrible outcomes are conjured up. Don’t get me wrong: our family takes advantage of many safety devices, but I think people often forget how many millions of kids survived childhood just fine while riding banana seat bikes without helmets, that the vast majority of babies survived in homes without plastic plugs covering outlets, and that most children arrived safely at Grandma’s after rolling around in the backs of station wagons on the way.

I appreciate the safety tips, but I’ll pass on the nagging worry, thanks.

But that’s easier said than done. The other day, one of our cats vomited in my in-basket and all over my computer speaker just as it was time to walk my kids the half-block to school. I sent them on their way without watching to make sure they safely crossed the street and arrived at school – and had a moment of doubt about whether that was the right thing to do. Then I mentally slapped myself and set about cleaning the cat barf.

Yes, bad things can happen, but worry won’t prevent them. A little common sense and some Peanuts wisdom go a long way in these terrorized times: “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.” – Charles Schulz

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