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Wildebeest and antelope
Jack Balshaw 10/24/01

As the September 11 tragedy and its legacy become a new and permanent part of our lives, I've been trying to find an analogy of something that mimics how different people react to such events. Initially there was a great shock to our emotions because of the magnitude of the tragedy. Already, people are returning to normalcy in their daily lives. Other than difficulties for those who fly and the drumbeat of 24/7 news reports on the cable networks, our day to day world seems almost normal again.

For many people their attitude is, " That's not likely to happen me, so forget it." Others react with, "Oh my god, I never thought that might happen to me, I better start worrying". My analogy is the wildebeest and the antelope.

Wildebeest travel in great herds and are often stalked by lions. The lions are going to attack and maybe kill some but, because of the vast numbers of wildebeest, the lions are unlikely to harm any particular one. The herd moves along as if there is no danger from the lions even though some individuals will become victims.

When we hear about a death or injury in traffic, at work, in the home or anyplace, most people react like the wildebeest, "That's unlikely to happen to me". Some people don't.

For these, I use the antelope as a symbol. Antelope are always on the alert and extremely cautious about placing themselves in possible danger. After any attack by lions, they stay exceptionally alert for an extended period of time.

The September 11 catastrophe was a major tragedy but, one month later, we're now mostly concerned with how terrorism might affect us personally in the future. Some follow the way of the wildebeest and some the way of the antelope.

Because our media tends to exaggerate negative happening, we are continually exposed to inflammatory news reports. The media either can't sustain interest in any tragedy for long or events take place showing that the original problem has passed and so they have to feed us a continuous diet of potential new problems. I sometimes think that, once a year, the media should have to print or announce all their "What bad things might happen" stories for the year so we could see how many times we were alerted and caused to worry about problems that never developed. Remember Y2K?

Whether the stories are that California will decline to the level of a third world country because of our energy crisis or that school and workplace shootings will become epidemic, we deserve an accounting each year of how many dire predictions presented as headline stories actually came true.

This wildebeest/antelope analogy mimics my thoughts about people viewing the glass as either half full or half empty. Optimistic people usually don't obsess themselves about potential problems. On the other hand, this can lead to serious consequences if they become victims of chance.

Pessimistic people may unnecessarily worry a lot about things that only might happen. But along with their anxiety, they also have a feeling of security that at least they're on the look out for potential problems. They probably do avoid some difficulties in life because of this awareness.

As time passes since September 11 we will settle down to accepting this new cloud in our lives. Depending on how the war on terrorism goes and what tactics the terrorists use to keep the threat of danger alive, our being fearful and how we deal with it, will resemble that of either the wildebeest or the antelope.

Looking at things coldly, there's not much we can do individually. Our time would probably be better spent staying aware of expensive and unnecessary processes and legislation. Any freedoms we give up may never be returned and any processes that get started may become permanent. Meanwhile, as Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."


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