Americans have always been a welcoming people. From the time homesteaders began arriving, the welcome mat has always been out.
So how can we explain that reliable polling now shows 80 percent of us do not want to open their doors to the Syrian refugees who are flooding western countries?
You can best answer that with a single word: “Fear!”
Fear is a strange psychological force. One of the things it does to us is to magnify whatever is dominating our thoughts.
An airplane crashes someplace in the vast Pacific, killing all aboard. Suddenly we have a renewed fear of flying, despite the fact we may know that this is the first airline disaster in six months, and there are now 600,000 people who are safely flying at any moment of the day or night.
Some of us are simply afraid of high places, or closed in spaces, or the dark. You can’t really explain why, but that doesn’t make it less real.
Life is what is, not what should be.
So even though we know most refugees are poor folks fleeing their own fears, and we really would like to help them, we are afraid to offer sanctuary, because we have seen the video clips of all those terrorist attacks. And we’re scared.
I try fight my own fears by applying logic as an override, but it doesn’t always work.
Sometimes I use reverse logic. I don’t buy lottery tickets, because I have read that the odds tell me I’m more likely to be struck twice by lightning than I am to win the big prize. So instead of buying lottery tickets, I wait for the lightning strike.
If our own government Department of Homeland Security was not so inept, they would be able to offer us some assurance that they are able to filter out any terrorists hiding among the throngs. But with good reason we don’t trust our own government in matters such as this.
When we read the statistics we learn that the number of people dying from gunshot is declining year by year, but that doesn’t quench our fear enough to make us feel safer.
No matter what the adversity, we are always able to move forward, despite our fears — mostly because it is the only way we can really live. Life is what happens when we are making other plans.
When we go to church we almost universally pray that we will “fear no evil”. But we do. And we are smart enough to know ISIS is evil.
Another year to plan
When I write this column each week, I assign it a number, rather than a date. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the way we do it.
So this is John-a-Dreams 52. Next week. Lord willing, I’ll write John-a-Dreams 1.
More important, it’s the week when most of us spend extra time reflecting on the past year and pondering what lies ahead.
They call it planning, an exercise in which we try to see what’s around the corner, while wishing the corner was glass instead of a brick structure.
I like to think the years have helped me mellow. I do think about people more than ever before, and search for ways to be more empathetic and kind.
Alas, aging seems to intensify many of those fears I talked about earlier, and that makes me more rigid in some ways.
For instance, I would like to tell every Donald Trump supporter: “Get a life. The enemy is Hillary. A vote for Donald is simply a vote for Hillary, stupid!”
But that would not be empathetic and kind, so I won’t.
Instead I’ll make the same wish for you that I need to make for myself.
Stand taller than your strongest instincts and that will make you kinder and better able to believe that no matter what happens, 2016 can be a better year.