copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Do you know one? Perchance your mother, father, brother, or sister is a person you would characterize as lovingly protective. He or she maybe an individual who works to shield loved ones from harm. This fine fellow or femme plots and plans in an attempt to prevent any crisis. People come to depend on caring souls such as he or she. Indeed, you may be the cautious crier who actively expresses concern for the health and welfare of those you treasure. It is a tough task, but you, or someone in your life may have assumed responsibility for the well-being of another. Surely, someone must keep us safe and sane. One never knows who might lurk or linger in the halls, bathroom stalls, on a plane, boat or train. Credentials must be checked. If family and friends cannot safeguard us from the crazies and fanatics certainly, our sweet Uncle Sam will.
Article II of the Constitution and the American people provide the Commander-In-Chief the authority to protect and defend at all costs, or currently, it would seem so. Checks and balance be damned, when the consensus within the country is, “We are at war!”
In a time such as this, few reflect upon the parallels in their everyday lives. Quietly, each of us recalls when we, personally, were at war. The conflict was covert. Rarely were we even conscious of what occurred. Thus, just as we are as children, in adulthood, we oblige. When asked to remove our shoes in an airport, American citizens, and visitors to this country, do so. “Put your sweater in the tray.” Happy, with the prospect that we might avoid a full body search, we smile, and act in accordance with the command.
This is after we handed the Transportation Security Administrators our boarding pass and photograph identification card. Indeed, as we shuffle off to Buffalo, New York, Billings, Montana, or Bakersfield, California, we succumb to the many demands put before us. The public is now, for the most part, willing to submit to a body scan. Seventy-eight percent of the Americans polled support the use of technology that in the past, would have been considered a physical invasion of privacy.
Although fifty-one percent of the American people who were asked favor racial and ethnic profiling, this action, in truth, is thought politically incorrect. Nonetheless, archetypal classifications are “acceptable” to more than half the populace. People prefer to feel protected. Most trust they will never be subject to unwarranted seizure. Nor will the use of these X-rays affect their health. Certainly, Uncle Sam is scrupulous and will not use the images in an unethical manner. Others are the adversaries. Authority figures are as Mom and Dad. They do as they do in our best interest.
As humans, we long for love, and interpret protective practice as an expression of this caring, or do we? Might we muse Americans have become inured to the fragility factor. Constantly, especially in this decade, citizens have been told there is reason to fear. Hence, Americans have become extremely apprehensive. Paradoxically, the Office of Homeland Security concludes that much of our trepidation is of our own making.
It begins in childhood. In the last score or so, fearful parents proclaimed, “Do not talk to strangers.” The neighborhood is on watch. Playtime must be supervised. “The world,” Moms and Dads declare, “is not a safe place.” Indeed, it is impossible to escape the hazards. Scary people are everywhere. Nonetheless, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and of course Uncle Sam will help. Rest assured; “we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure.”
Children were, perchance, comforted. Today, mothers and fathers ponder their growing pains. Many reason it is better to cloister a little one. Thus, parents plan every activity. From birth forward, it is more than 18 Years in the Making. Cash is stashed for college. Schools and careers are chosen and charted before a child takes his or her first steps. Tikes are trained and tested to ensure that they will achieve. Once the standards are set, early in life, our government takes over. Officials watch our every move and we are comfortable with this.
Americans, compassionately teach their children to be on guard However, as an adolescent medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, Doctor Elizabeth Alderman observes, overprotective parents have left their children with few real-world coping competencies. ”If you don’t have these skills, then it’s very normal to become anxious.”
Diane knows this well. She learned her lessons long before the current trend in parenting. Darling Diane was but a lass when she discovered that she was not safe. Decades ago, years before people hid behind locked doors and windows, Diane realized that everywhere she went there was danger.
In the 1950s the little tike understood, when she walked to school, she did not travel alone. Her mother marched with her. Mrs McMahon did not stroll at the young girl’s side. Nor did the elder woman sweetly saunter just out of sight. Madame McMahon hung over Diane’s head. She haunted her darling daughter, and was always in the youngster’s thoughts.
For Diane, it was as it is today for a young patient of Doctor David Anderegg, a Child Psychologist in Lenox, Massachusetts. As the adolescent spoke with the Professor of Psychology at Bennington College, she said “I wish my parents had some hobby other than me.” Experts appear to agree; being the subject of intense scrutiny can cause a child, of any age, to be anxious.
Diane McMahon concurs. Whatever she did, Diane could not shake the angst. Her protective parent influenced her every action; however, not in ways that would benefit the girl or her relationship with her Mom.
If Diane thought to be with peers, Mom was always in the background of her mind. When her friends stole makeup from Walgreen’s Pharmacy, Diane did too. The “culprit” knew she could not keep the cosmetics, at least not at home. She arranged for a friend of hers, whose Mom and Dad did not go through her drawers, to take the foundation, powder, eye shadow, and mascara. Each evening these, along with the lipstick and perfume would go home with an acquaintance. In the morning, on the way to school, all would be returned to Diane.
When classmates said smoking is cool, Diane tried it. Warnings from her mother, while heard, and alive, loudly in Diane’s head, did not persuade the teen to do what Mom wanted her to do.
She never openly crossed her mother; nor did the girl question Mrs McMahon’s wisdom. Diane merely hid her heart, the stolen makeup, the cigarettes, and her life. The mother lived blissfully, ignorant of who her daughter was, and what she did daily. The two had a good relationship, and seemingly, to this day they do. However, the hurts, just as the haunts, remain unseen.
In Diane’s family secrets prevail. Just as a rebellious child, a sibling, a spouse, or a terrorist, people do what they desire to do. No one, not even a firm Mrs McMahon, Mister Obama, Mister Bush, you, or I can control what will come. Indeed, we create it.
When people are presumed to be in need of protection, ultimately, they guard themselves from the protector. Those alleged guilty persons, often prove not to be as they appear to be. Diane enjoyed her hours at home with her parents. She cherished the time they spent together away as well. Yet, there was always unexpressed tension.
Hothouse parenting undermines children in other ways, too, says Anderegg. Being examined all the time makes children extremely self-conscious. As a result they get less communicative; scrutiny teaches them to bury their real feelings deeply. And most of all, self-consciousness removes the safety to be experimental and playful. “If every drawing is going to end up on your parents’ refrigerator, you’re not free to fool around, to goof up or make mistakes,” says Anderegg.
Parental hovering is why so many teenagers are so ironic, he notes. It’s a kind of detachment, “a way of hiding in plain sight. They just don’t want to be exposed to any more scrutiny.”
Infinite inspections, eternal examinations, possible detection did not necessarily stop Diane from engaging in the behaviors her mother feared. Nor would a prohibition or possible penalty inhibit the lass . Threats have no power. As a toddler Dine realized the notion Scott Stewart, Vice President of Tactical Intelligence at the global foundation, Stratfor acknowledges. The security expert advises; regardless of what type of technology is used at airports, or which techniques are employed by “protective parents, creative terrorists, just as tots, teens, and those at any age, will always find ways to get around it.
When asked if airport body scanners can stop terrorist attacks, he said, “Look at prison systems, where searches are far more invasive – they still can’t stop contraband from being smuggled into the system,” Mister Stewart continues and cautions. Americans tend to rely on technology, “instead of human intelligence,”
We might extrapolate. Protective parents depend upon their ability to provide safety and security. Rather than teach self-reliance, nervous caregivers coddle, cosset, and lavish “love” on their little ones. Mothers and fathers create a culture cocooned from harm and believe this is good parenting.
John Portmann, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia has observed, many students, such as Diane, “There is a ritual every university administrator has come to fear.” He explains. “Every fall, parents drop off their well-groomed freshmen and within two or three days many have consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol and placed themselves in harm’s way. These kids have been controlled for so long, they just go crazy.”
Professor Portmann feels the effects of overprotection are even more pernicious. He suggests the whole fabric of society is feeble and fallible when we place our faith in our mother, father, or the Federal government. Portmann is very familiar with what he sees each semester. Young people and their parents become weaker, “more responsive to the herd, too eager to fit in-less assertive . . , unwilling to disagree with their peers, afraid to question authority, more willing to conform to the expectations of those on the next rung of power above them.”
That is, perhaps, the greater threat to the persons who reside on this planet. Most forfeit their personal power. People presuppose someone will know what is best. We trust the crowd or the Commander-In-chief. Most think as the group does. “Evil is everywhere.” “There are enemies all about.” “Terrorists want to kill us.” These are considered conventional wisdoms or accepted assumptions. However, the paradox is, presumptions become projections. Self-fulfilling prophecies survive. Frequently, these conjectures thrive, while, just as in all other wars, citizens die.
In counterterrorism circles, the standard response to questions about the possibility of future attacks is the terse one-liner: “Not if, but when.” This mantra supposedly conveys a realistic approach to the problem, but, as Joseba Zulaika argues in Terrorism, it functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. By distorting reality to fit their own worldview, the architects of the War on Terror prompt the behavior they seek to prevent-a twisted logic that has already played out horrifically in Iraq. In short, Zulaika contends, counterterrorism has become pivotal in promoting terrorism.
Diane, her deeds, Mrs McMahon sense of doom, and the destructive practice of a protective philosophy affirm what scores of Americans dismiss in the abstract. What we fear most has power. As is oft-stated, what we conceive, and truly believe, will be achieved. Ample research asserts, whether what we imagine is for good or the source of our grief, our conviction can be a cause and an effect. Often we are too close to a situation to see what others easily discern.
To the countless who contemplate traumas such as terrorism and ask, “What next?” There are many possible prospects. We can choose to cultivate a culture that cares rather than works to control or we can continue to rely on a reality that has never been. Americans can have faith that the Commander-In-Chief “Will Do Everything” or we can accept that, alas, the demon is our own dependency.
References for the reality of resentment, revolt, or insurgent rebels . . .
- Obama: ‘We Are at War,’ By Jeff Zeleny and Helen Cooper. The New York Times. January 7, 2010
- Transcript of Obama remarks on airline security and terror watch lists. FDCH e-Media, Incorporated. Washington Post. December 28, 2009
- Tips for the Admissions Test … to Kindergarten, By Sharon Otterman. The New York Times. November 20, 2009
- 18 Years in the Making, By Ron Lieber. The New York Times. April 19, 2009
- The 40-Something Dependent Child. Editors. The New York Times. October 28, 2009
- For Kids, One Sport or Many? By Tara Parker Pope. The New York Times. September 2, 2008
- Poll: 3 in 4 Support Airport Body Scans. CBS News. January 11, 2010
- Fear of Terrorist Attack Could Trigger Mass Psychogenic Illness. Homeland Infrastructure Threat and Risk Analysis Center. July 5, 2006
- A Nation of Wimps. Psychology Today. November 12, 2004
- Study: Youth Now Have More Mental Health Issues. Associated Press. The New York Times. January 11, 2010
- Can Airport Body Scanners Stop Terrorist Attacks? By Leo Cendrowicz. Time. January 5, 2010
- Obama: We Will Do Everything Possible to Keep America Safe. By Kevin Hechtkopf. CBS News. December 28, 2009
- Keep America Safe.
- Terrorism; The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Author, Professor Joseba Zulaika. 2009