David Cogswell | December 22, 2015 12:00 PM ET
Happy Solstice to You!
Today as I write this it is Dec. 21, the day of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Solstice and many happy returns.
In some ways it was a strange day for me to be celebrating. I went to a wake in recognition of an inspirational community member who just died. Independently I heard news that an old friend is very ill and may be dying. And then I heard that horrible, grotesque story of the woman who intentionally drove her car into a crowd of people on the sidewalk in Las Vegas.
It’s such a horrible story that it’s difficult to process. It’s hard to make any comment about it. Knowing of the phenomenon of copycat crime, one is tempted to just say “SHHHHH!” very loudly. Let’s not discuss this too much or it may become the next big repeating event in America, like mass shootings.
It’s bad enough that it seems that any enraged lunatic with the urge to blow away a large number of people can get his hands on an automatic weapon more easily than he can get a Lunesta. Do we now have to start dealing with the idea spreading among murderous lunatics that they can easily commit mass murder with a car?
I certainly hope not.
A lot of the people I have conversations with, whether on Facebook, by email or in person, are wondering if the whole world is just going crazy. People are whispering to each other, “Is it just the fact that we have 24-hour news cycles and a constant rush of social media now, or does it seem that the pace of disaster is accelerating?”
Sometimes it seems as if war today has decentralized and while it used to be fought on certain battlefronts, now violence is anywhere and everywhere, not contained by borders, not focused in certain places.
From the tourism point of view, each disaster of any kind sends shockwaves through the travel industry. When the travel industry shuts down in one place or another because of fear ripping through the population like a lightning bolt plugged into cyberspace, it wreaks havoc on many people’s livelihoods.
At the U.S. Tour Operators Association conference in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, the president of one of the top tour operators told me, “I worry about everything. I worry all the time.”
And I realized that indeed, in his line of work he must do that. Everything that creates danger anywhere is the concern of the tour operators who take people to the places where the trouble hits. Tour operators are like an army of first responders, all working for themselves, protecting their livelihoods by taking responsibility for the people who travel with them whenever some incident creates concern.
And in fact while there are thousands of people traveling with tour operators around the world every day, it is very rare that any of them is ever harmed in any of these highly publicized disasters.
When there is some kind of attack in New York people shy away from New York for a while. When there is something in Paris, people stay away from Paris for a while. Now it’s Las Vegas. Would it make any sense for me to shy away from Las Vegas now? Do I really expect that those thousands of drivers in that city are suddenly going to become menaces?
I don’t think so. Avoiding a place where something bad happened is not based on a rational assessment of danger. It’s just fear.
With mass shootings erupting in the states on literally a daily basis, is it a rational response to just not go anywhere? If these things can happen in your home town, anywhere, where do you hide? Under your bed?
The idea that travel makes you more vulnerable to danger has no rational basis at all. Most of the people who get hurt in any of these incidents are not traveling. That applies to terrorist attacks as well. There is really very little correlation between travel and danger. It’s just that when people are afraid they want to hold still and hide.
It may sound like I am painting a picture of a situation in which it is dangerous to be anywhere. But no, I don’t actually think that things are all that dangerous for individuals today whether traveling or staying home. We hear about all these horrible events, but I have to occasionally remind myself that these events are anomalies.
At the same time that you have the horrible incident in Las Vegas, there were millions of people in hundreds of other cities around the world, even in Las Vegas itself, that were going about their affairs without molestation.
And for every lunatic murderer, for every sociopathic criminal, there are thousands of people who just want to get along, make a decent living to raise their families, and not break any laws or hurt anyone.
Before you climb under your bed and withdraw from life, let me remind you of what the so-called Greatest Generation went through. Can you imagine the conditions people lived under during the Great Depression? How about World War II? Can you imagine how you would feel living in London in 1940 and realizing that another country has decided to bomb your city every night?
And if that is not bad enough, may I remind you of World War I? How about the American Civil War, right on our own soil?
Who ever said that you are entitled to live your entire life in peace and without disruption? Where does this expectation come from? Certainly not from history. It would be nice, but sometimes things happen.
Yes, we have our problems today, no doubt about it. And many of our problems today are new. They did not exist in times past. But this is our time.
I submit that people in all those earlier periods went through much tougher trials than we are facing now. But however you would make that comparison, this is our time. This is the time on earth when we have our lives. We must make the most of it. Plunge it to the hilt. We can’t wait for some perfect, peaceful time when it is safe everywhere to start living our lives.
I doubt that such perfect simplicity and peace ever existed in human history. But in any case, it is not our lot now to live in a world of perfect peace.
Meanwhile, those frightening incidents are flashes that occur in a field of relative tranquility. When a horrible disruption of peace and order takes place, it reminds us of our good fortune that those disruptions are the exception and not the rule. And it should cause us to recommit ourselves to the causes of peace, order and justice.
But it should not cause us to put our activities on hold. It should not keep us from living our lives. Time is short.
Happy Solstice! I hope you celebrate with me.
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