Bob Rogers originally published this article at http://justoneopinion.com and reprints it here for visitors to New Bohemians. The year long tandem bicycle trip mentioned to is linked on this site under Tandem, An American Love Story.
A Fearful Country
Americans are a fearful bunch. Our swagger is unmatched when it comes to bragging about our nation’s wealth and power, but when it comes down to the personal level, we’re afraid of, of, what?
In 1995 and 1996, my wife Claire and I rode a tandem bicycle 14,000 miles around America. We wanted an adventure, and we wanted to see what our fellow Americans were really like. We met hundreds of caring, sharing people who made us proud to be Americans. We also learned that many of them are fearful, and sometimes because of that fear, dislike each other. Fear seems to breed antipathy, even hate.
People thought we were brave or stupid to undertake such a journey. We figured it was a little of both, but it was our choice, As Americans we are blessed to have the freedom to do with our lives as we please. In nearly 40,000 miles of pedaling around the world, we have learned that many others are not so fortunate, do not have the freedom to learn about their own culture, let alone travel the world and learn about others.
As the thousands of miles rolled under our wheels, driven by increasingly powerful muscles and sharper, more questioning minds, we wondered why so many Americans were so afraid, and of what? We passed a sign on a driveway in rural Washington state, “WARNING: Don’t Come Around Here After Dark, Or You’ll Be Found Here In The Morning.” Locking one’s door is not necessarily fearful, just prudent, but what would make someone threaten everyone passing his house?
The retired fighter pilot in Texas, Hispanic trucker in Nevada, pickup cowboy in Montana, Cajun sheriff’s deputy, folks of all colors, political and religious persuasions, all wanted to know, “What do you carry for protection?”
We settled on the vague, “we don’t talk about that.” That seemed to satisfy most except the Cajun deputy who insisted I take his heavy-duty pepper spray.
We were invited for dinner and a bed by a wonderful couple in Indiana who were curious about why we would do such a dangerous thing as ride a bicycle around America. They followed a preacher who told them Armageddon would come, at the year 2000. Their house had bars on the windows, several locks on the doors and weapons. They couldn’t explain how any of this would help in the great conflagration that we are told will come with Armageddon. I respect other’s religious beliefs, as long as they respect my lack thereof, but it seemed strange that their god did not give them comfort, but fear. We told them we had no fear because we were living our dream, and if something were to happen to us, we would have fulfilled our lives. I hope our lack of fear made them question their own excessive fear.
Mind you, none of these people had ever been attacked, or had even known personally anyone who had been attacked, but they felt the need for protection. This was long before 9/11; our government had not yet taught us the constant fear of terrorists, and violent crimes were on the decline in most of the country.
I could only conclude that Americans are fearful, because it is in the interest of some to keep us that way. Gun and ammunition manufacturers certainly gain, locksmiths and home security companies; how about psychologists and ministers, Hollywood? I’m not suggesting these entities, and others, are engaged in a plot to make us fearful. But where are the voices speaking out for the opposing viewpoint, that we really have little to fear in this country? The obvious answer is that there’s no money in helping us feel secure, but plenty to be made by making us afraid.
The big downside is this; fear breeds distrust of those not like us, and that could eventually lead to the breakdown of our cohesiveness as a nation.
Isn’t that what our enemies want? Could our fearfulness be our worst enemy?