When I was a kid I had a paper route. That sounds so old fashioned now, and a lot of people today would probably consider it to be dangerous, negligent, and possibly abusive to allow a child to walk around alone, in the dark, at 5:30 in the morning delivering newspapers. There were probably no more child molesters and serial killers lurking in the shadows than there are today. But in the age of fear and hyperbole all we’ve been conditioned to see are the monsters.
It sort of bugs me that the first thing most people ask, when I tell them I had a paper route as a kid, is whether I was scared. Wasn’t it pants-crappingly terrifying to be sent out to do hard labor in the cold and darkness? Okay, first of all, no one made me do it. I begged to be allowed to have a paper route. It was a way to earn my own money. It was some small degree of financial independence. I could buy things I wanted, save up for more expensive things, and not have to wait for my birthday or Christmas and hope that some adult actually listened when I told them what I wanted and bought it for me.
Today I live with an anxiety disorder, presumably because I’ve since learned the truth of the world. But have I? Yes, times have changed, but I literally spent years running the streets alone, delivering papers, without incident. I was far more vulnerable then than I am now. Bad things have happened in my life, but statistically, I’ve had more good days and quiet, ordinary boring days than epically disastrous ones. Yet somehow I was fearless then, and survived, and am a wretched emotional wreck now.
Imaginary Danger and Mass Agoraphobia
I feel like at some point we began to teach fear rather than caution. As a kid we were all taught not to take candy from strangers, or to get into a car with someone we didn’t know. That basic wisdom and common sense has been replaced by mass agoraphobia. Don’t just avoid doing things that might be unsafe; avoid doing anything. Never leave the house, because there are terrorists and gang members and mass shooters and trigger-happy cops and sexual predators and actual effing Nazis roaming freely. Just stay glued to social media, and text your friends, and play video games, and consume.
Some fear is natural. A lot of it is learned. Remember that the same walls meant to keep them out also keep you in. How can you live your best life when you’ve voluntarily trapped yourself in a box? We somehow need to bolster our critical thinking skills. Do some sort of collective self-check. Maybe then we can focus on the actual dangers and forget about the imaginary ones.