Have Twins, Will Travel

Our Culture of Fear

Somerville, Mass – While riding the bus this week, Twin V noticed that somebody had etched a name into the window pane. “Why would anybody write on the window?” he demanded accusingly. “That’s not right.” I nodded in agreement. Then he continued adamantly “That’s why if you see somebody writing on the window or acting suspicious, you should report it to the driver.”

I was startled. I almost asked Twin V where he learned something like that, before I realized he used nearly the same words as the announcements that are broadcast regularly on the bus. I try to tune out those announcements, but I know the message seeps in. V doesn’t tune out anything, so of course he hears the message loud and clear.

I hate those announcements. I hate the noise pollution. And I hate the culture of fear and suspicion that they contribute to. I hate that Twin V recited the message with such earnestness, although I am somewhat gratified that he equates suspicious behavior with writing on the window.

The twins have heard this message their whole lives–on the bus, at the T station, in the airport. While they may define “suspicious behavior” in their own ways (thankfully), they are already programmed to be on the lookout for it. They are already programmed to be mistrustful.

Later in the week, the twins had a lockdown drill at their school. My spell check doesn’t even recognize the word “lockdown”, but it is now commonplace across the country for school children to practice what to do if a dangerous intruder enters the school. As the twins describe it, they have to know what to do if “a stranger or a bad guy” comes into their school. “Everybody has to go in the cubby area and you have to be absolutely silent.”

There was some discussion among the parents in the lead-up to the drill. One mother called it “worst first thinking”. Another countered “I’d rather our kids be prepared for something that never happens then not be prepared for something that does happen.” With a few exceptions, however, the parents agreed that their children did not think the lockdown drill was particularly frightening.

Certainly, the twins were unfazed by it. When it comes to potentially scary things, they make a clear distinction between things that are real (eg, dogs) and things that are imaginary (monsters). The former is scary, the latter is not. In their minds, the lockdown drill falls squarely in the second category, so it’s not scary. This is why the lockdown drill is so much more upsetting for grown-ups than for children: we understand that it is all too real.

At the dinner table, my family often takes a moment to recall something that we are grateful for. That evening, Twin S reported that he was grateful for the lockdown drill — the highlight of his day, apparently.

In the days since, the twins have been gleefully yelling “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!” when they chase their friends around the playground. The kids are not suffering the lockdown drill.

And yet… how many lockdown drills will they do in their lives? How many announcements will they hear on the bus? How long before hiding from “bad guys” becomes part of the routine, just like looking out for “suspicious behavior”? How did this pervasive culture of fear become the norm?


3 thoughts on “Our Culture of Fear

  1. Karen Auge

    I hate lockdown drill too. Have you ever asked our parents what is was like for them and “bomb” drills?? Looking back what do they think. I remember at times wondering if a nuclear bomb would come out of nowhere. Although never had those types of drills….

  2. Mara Vorhees Post author

    One of the dads at school was remembering that he had bomb drills every month (!) at his school. We never had drills but I do remember a looming threat of nuclear war when we were growing up. Personally, I was never really scared of it because I never believed anybody would be so stupid as to allow it to happen — which I suppose is a variation on the real vs. imaginary understanding of the world. I could not fathom that nuclear war could be real, just like my kids can only imagine “bad guys” in the context of Batman or whatever — so also not real. So I guess that’s reassuring… that the drill does not make it “real” to them (in most cases).

    Nonetheless, as these kinds of practices become more commonplace, it is inevitable that we will become a more fearful and less open society (leading to more such practices, leading to more fear, etc etc). I’m not against the lockdown drills per se, but I do believe that fear does not make us safer. Fear fosters animosity and exclusivity and isolation — those are very dangerous things! We’re going in the wrong direction!

    So that’s my point. I guess my thoughts had not quite gelled when I wrote this post, but now they have. Thanks for reading!

  3. Karen Auge

    I totally get where you were coming from – I can’t imagine ever having to actually hide in a closet in that kind of fear (if it actually happened). I also was slightly appalled when I heard how they practiced these drills

    (And now everyone knows where the kids are hiding – so is it a good idea to practice?? I digress…)

    I just had a thought to ease our minds when I freak out about lockdown as well.

    I, unlike you, would have moments of panic attacks growing up – thinking I could be riding my bike and “boom” I would be all alone after a bomb was dropped.

    What the big picture is beyond lockdown, is to not live in fear. Which I hear from you and is a good point. I just hoped you didn’t have to worry so much that this practice would be different then how you/I and our parents survived similar type drills without being completely emotionally damaged (which may be up for judgement 🙂 )