April 17, 2013 at 6:04 pm #178039
I am compelled to post something briefly here because I’m stunned by the events of this week. Stunned by the attacks in Boston and the images we’re being bombarded with on the news. Stunned with how simple the device seems to have been. Stunned by the ricin laced letters being discovered.
But it suddenly dawned on me that I’m stunned by something else too. No one is talking about it in my office. No memos have been sent, no resources are being provided. There’s been no acknowledgement that this environment might be unsettling to people.
Speaking for myself, I’ve been very anxious since Monday. After the bombings I went to the gym to run off the jittery-ness, but also because I didn’t want to get on the metro immediately. I’ve since become very aware of every trash can I pass. Maybe my feelings are stronger because I have a personal connection to Boston, having gone to college there. Maybe I’m just naturally a little more anxious than the next person. But I also have to assume I’m not the only one that feels this way.
I’ve seen multiple stories about how we need to talk to children about these events to help them cope with the feelings of anxiety and fear. That the open discussions help them feel safe when, really, there is an element of the unknown with regards to what is unfolding. So why aren’t we, in our workplaces, being encouraged to do the same thing?
Is it different in your office? Do you feel safe at work? On your commute?
April 17, 2013 at 8:24 pm #178097
Why wouldn’t you feel safe? If anyone wanted to do harm, in every city every day there are literally thousands of opportunities where people gather in largely unproctored or unsecured fashion. Multiply those hundreds of thousands of opportunities, across the nation, by the number of days in a year, and the number of years, and now divide 1 by that number, and calculate the odds. I’d be more afraid of driving home at the end of the day if I were you.
One of the quirks of human cognition is that frequency-of-occurrence is logged in rather indiscriminate fashion at an unconscious level. So when people are glued to the news, and the same footage of a terrible event is repeated endlessly for hours and days on end, we may “know”, at a conscious level, that it is one rather rare event, but at an unconscious level, we are given to logging it as something that “happens a LOT”. If you listen to your partner rave about the same restaurant to many of your friends, you’ll log it as the restaurant being immensely popular, even though it is one solitary opinion. This is, of course, why folks who watch a lot of TV are known to overestimate the incidence of crime in their area: the same few news events, repeated, FEEL like a frequently-occurring category of events.
At the same time, it is entirely understandable that when an event like Monday’s is so rare and novel for younger persons (older individuals having likely experienced more traumatic events over the course of their lives), they will want to know and learn as much about it as they can. It will rivet their attention, as anything new and emotionally-laden should. But within the context of the contemporary 24hr news cycle, that solitary event will consume the airwaves and bandwidth, and leave folks like yourself with the unshakeable deep-seated feeling that it is an event highly likely to reoccur, and elicit fear as a result.
I’m not diminishing the seriousness one iota, just drawing attention to the manner in which normal human cognition, when paired up with media that don’t feel any obligation to be mindful of such things, plays tricks on one’s thinking and reasoning.
So, you’re safe. The person/s who did it…not so much.
Over forty years ago, when I was in junior college, martial law was declared and my city was locked down after the British High Commissioner and a provincial cabinet minister were kidnapped, the latter being murdered and found in a car trunk ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_Crisis ). This had been preceded a few years earlier by a rash of mailbox bombings in the same city by the same political extremist group. There were tanks and jeeps patrolling the streets downtown, and soldiers with machine guns at the entrance to every subway station. A number of my classmates and instructors went into hiding because all sorts of folks were being arrested and detained. Pretty dramatic stuff. But we had no internet, no cellphones, no Twitter, no Facebook, no cable news, and very little media coverage apart from the 6PM and 11PM news, and newspaper. Nothing was being suppressed; we just weren’t drowning in the stuff. We treated it seriously, but we went to school, came home, went shopping, went out, and lived our lives normally, with very little effort, and no shudders of fear after, because it wasn’t drilled into our heads in a way that made us feel it could happen again at any moment on any day.
April 17, 2013 at 9:08 pm #178095
Mark, Thanks for your comments. I have explained to many people that what I know has little impact on how I feel right now. But, these are the kind of conversations that we can have in our offices (with those who are “in the same boat” so to speak) that can be really helpful. Even though these conversations are not being had in my office, I’m grateful to have other govies to provide insight. I’m going to apply this interesting info from the field of cognitive science and do what I can to avoid over exposure to the media for a little while–Thanks!
April 18, 2013 at 1:46 am #178093
No I don’t feel safe, but not specifically because of bombings. The world as a whole feels more unstable these days, on many levels. I do have a sense of shifting sands in a good way, but quicksand is everywhere. At least that is my personal experience. OpenGovvies may be more vulnerable, simply because we are more visible.
April 18, 2013 at 3:46 am #178091
David B. GrinbergParticipant
Words of wisdom, Mark, very well put.
FYI — Yes, I feel safe during my metro commute from Maryland to DC. Likewise, I feel safe in my federal workplace. You should too.
I recall being in my federal building downtown on 9/11 and having to evacuate. I recall the panic, fear and uncertainty that gripped the city and the country in the days, weeks and months that followed. Since then, an untold number of high-level and unseen security measures have been put in place in the Washington area and enacted into national law (Patriot Act, etc.).
By the way, my agency conducted a shelter-in-place drill today. On Tuesday, during a large meeting in a conference center, the hosting official began by acknowledging the Boston bombings. He then pointing out where all of the emergency exits are located and specifically where people should go in case of an emergency evacuation.
And while it’s reassuring, smart and prudent to have plans in place and security enhanced, let’s not forget that ordinary citizens need to be proactive and alert to their immediate surroundings. If you see something, say something, like DHS keeps reminding us.
Inflicting fear, panic and uncertainty on the masses is a major goal of terrorist acts. Don’t let yourself be a victim. Rather, fear not.
We are safer and more prepared today than a decade ago, both in the nation’s capital and nationwide. We live in America, land of the free and home of the brave. Let’s try to remember that and keep things in perspective.
April 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm #178089
I am more afraid of the massive overreaction to these events than the events themselves. We have become a very fearful society, willing to allow our “protectors” to restrict basic freedoms and impose limitiations in the name of security that previous generations would have found intolerable.
As a young child, my family moved to Washington in 1965. Severe riots had recently turned much of the 12th and 14th street corridors into burnt out shells (some of the damage still remains). There were deadly riots in major cities literally every summer. The 82nd Airborne was deployed to Detroit to control riots and Newark NJ was more or less burnt to the ground before the army went in. Walking outside at night in many urban neighborhoods was risky during the daytime and suicidal at night. SDS (Students for Democratic Society) terrorists planted bombs, and other groups openly shot the “pigs” (police officers for you millenials). JFK, RFK and MLK were assasinated in the space of 5 years. And there was also the constant threat of a world ending thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union.Those were truely dangerous times.
But few people panicked the way they do today. The streets of Washington were open and welcoming rather than resembling an armed police state. People could drive down the streets between the White House and Treasury or Old EOP. People could freely enter any federal building, mostly to eat at the Hot Shops in the basement. The capital was open 24/7 and largely unguarded. The shopping mall in the Pentagon was a great place to grab a snack between buses. Travelers could get out of a cab at the entrence to the airport and board their plane 5 minutes later simply by walking unhindered to the gate. Law enforcement’s response to the ongoing violence was to focus on catching, prosocuting and incarcerating the perpetrators while imposing as little burden as possible on the average person just going about their daily business.
The situation today is 180 degrees reversed. The number of actual terrorist attacks is actually quite low compared to the 60s and the last major riot was 21 years ago in LA. The vast majority of urban neighborhoods are reasonably safe at night and very few are dangerous during the daytime. Yes there are bad people doing bad things; but compared to the 60s, we mostly coexist peacfully.
But look at how law enforcement and the public overereact to the small number of incidents that do occur. Daily life in downtown DC today farily closely resembles the descriptions we used to read of East Berlin, Moscow and Peking. The last time I flew out of Dullus, I allowed 60 minutes to get through security and only cut it that close because I had no checked baggage. The gate area was patrolled by an armed policeman carrying a “spray and pray” short barreled assault rifle which would, if ever used, pose more danger to the civillians in a crowded airport than to any potential attackers. Government buildings resemble armed fortresses in which the public we serve is completely unwelcome. We have become the society George Orwal warned us to avoid.
I am not niave and recognize the danger posed by terrorists. But I have also seen central DC brought to complete gridlock by empty cardboard boxes left on the sidewalk. At least four times in the past three years. This is not rational security. It is mindless paranoia.
We need to identify the terrorists, find and capture them, try them fairly in an open court of law, confict them, allow them one and only one appeal, stick a needle in their arm, execute them and be done with them. Next we need to get back to leading normal lifes. Yes, there will be another incident and one after that and on and on. They are an unfortunate part of the human condition and have been since barbarian tribes first raided Sumarian cities. But locking ourselves in some sort of supermax security state and cowering in fear is not the right answer.
April 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm #178087
Passionate analysis, Peter. Thanks.
This morning, we were awakened to news of the terrible fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. In terms of devastation, injury, and loss of life, it appears at this point, to have been more severe than the Boston bombings.
What separates these two very terrible events? To some extent, it is the presumption of motive behind one, but not the other. And, to the extent that people who could have motives are everywhere, the one elicits our anxiety while the other much less so.
I am well aware, due to my wife’s job checking over WHMIS sheets for completeness and currency, that a great many people work with materials and substances that could pose great risk to them, and those around them, unless used, stored, and disposed of, properly and safely. But we don’t see every manufacturing plant or dry cleaner as a potential source of threat (even though they are, as last night’s Texas tragedy illustrates), because we don’t presume “stuff” to have motives (although some industrial tragedies are a result of the lack of motivation by some). In any given year, far more Americans will be killed, maimed, or have their lives savagely disrupted by industrial accidents than by acts of deliberate attack on the basis of some ill-conceived political or religious motive.
I don’t say any of this to suggest “this boo-boo is bigger than that one”; it’s ALL terrible and the sort of stuff you pray to keep out of the lives of those you care for. Rather, it is more a musing about what shapes our perceptions of risk/threat/safety. If the danger is from “stuff”, we seem to blithely accept it, and carry on about our business, making some minor sensible adjustments here and there.
Will folks who work in, or even near, the fertilizer industry walk around today, thinking that at any moment “it could happen to them”? Maybe. But it will dissipate fairly quickly. By contrast, when any threat is deemed to be based on someone’s motive, anxiety and feelings of being unsafe linger much longer. Part of that is in response to the way in which such events are publicly responded to (e.g., all the announced preparations and precautions, worldwide, at most of the upcoming marathons, as if somehow long-distance races had suddenly become a “target”, equivalent to Iraqi police recruiting offices) and the things that public officials do to convey that they are “taking care of the problem”. Those things tend to prolong the emotional impact of the precipitating events. But another part of it is social mistrust, and the notion that someone – who could be anywhere – may be harbouring malevolent motices, waiting “for the right moment”.
Human perception of risk is a curious thing, innit? And in the contemporary communications era, where our perceptions are shaped more by information from 2nd or 3rd parties than by our own direct experience, even more curious.
April 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm #178085
Being the Director of Security for our Air Force squadron, I ensure that everyone understands the importance of remaining vigilant and relaying any potential concerns to the security management office. We as a whole have to take care of each other by looking out for warning signs and letting people know when things out of the ordinary are happening.
What is the security in depth level around your work area? Is it easy for someone to watch your organization and cause some level of harm. Having a good security defense is a good start to ensure your are safe at work.
April 19, 2013 at 11:39 am #178083
I have always felt safe in my workplace and being in DC, we have more police per square mile than virtually anywhere in the world. What you don’t want to do is over-react in paranoia. Of course, we all need to be vigilent when we ride on the Metro or are in public venues…Maybe look up from our smartphones periodically. We are ALL responsible for our security. There aren’t enough police officers to provide each of us with a personal body-guard. We can all do more to make our environment safe and I know it sounds like a cliche at this point, but – “If You See Something…Say Something.”
Stay safe, but don’t let this incident change your life.
April 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm #178081
Lisa M MaddryParticipant
I would like to offer some resource sites that may be helpful:
- Psychological First Aid: Helping People Cope During Disasters and Public Health Emergencies http://pfa.naccho.org/pfa/pfa_start.html
“Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event” is a guide for parents, caregivers, and teachers. http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Tips-for-Talking-With-and-Helping-Children-and-Youth-Cope-After-a-Disaster-or-Traumatic-Event/SMA12-4732
“Effects of Traumatic Stress after Mass Violence, Terror, or Disaster” is a guide that provides information regarding normal reactions to abnormal situations and describes common traumatic stress reactions and PTSD. The guide, as well as a number of other related resources, is available at http://www.samhsa.gov/trauma/?from=carousel&position=1&date=03272013
- “Mass disasters, trauma, and loss” is a brochure that explains reactions individuals may experience after a disaster and what they can do to recover. This is also available at http://www.samhsa.gov/trauma/?from=carousel&position=1&date=03272013
April 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm #178079
David, thanks for your insight. I did make it a point to go for a nice walk around the capital Tuesday, since it was a nice day and that is normal for me. You also bring up a great point about preparedness in our offices, to make sure we know how to respond and where to get our information from in the case of an emergency.
April 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm #178077
Megan, thanks for sharing your feelings. It’s reassuring in an odd way to know other people feel the same and it can be hard to talk about these things. But you’re right, no matter how many ways we can rationalize that we are safe (as other people have commented), there is something kind of vaguely unsettling about things in general. I do hope you are right about positive shifting sands–it is about time!
April 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm #178075
Peter, thank you for sharing your perspective. It is always instructive to remember that this isn’t the first time our nation has dealt with these crises and it likely won’t be the last. But also that we always get back to “normal”. I would assert, however, that having open discussions about our fears, rational or not, is constructive. We need mindful vigilance, but the mindful paranoia, as you put it.
April 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm #178073
Mark, I completely agree with your comments on the industrial explosion in TX. There are also very normal everyday things that present a risk. People have every right to be concerned about the industries around them and that they are safe. Interestingly, I have hear some discussion about the zoning laws in West, TX near the plant, raising questions about whether you should be allowed to build a school or homes some close. Certainly an interesting question for local gov to consider the pros and cons of the argument.
April 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm #178071
Ressie, Thanks for your insights. While I know little about the security of my building (other than what is visibly apparent) I would say I do feel safe AT work. It’s the larger idea that, living/working in a city you are at crowded public events and on public transportation, both of which could be targets.
April 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm #178069
Terry, thanks for your thoughts. You’re absolutely right and I have noticed people being a little more aware of their surroundings on the metro Monday and Tuesday. Your perspective also reminds us that we’re not totally helpless. We can go on with our daily lives while staying alert within reason.
April 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm #178067
No one is talking about it in my office either, except that we are having a marathon here on Saturday, one with about 5,000 people that we hold every year (Salt Lake City Marathon). My staff member is volunteering on it, so we talked a few minutes, and it goes right by my house. So it is on my mind for sure.
But I feel safe at work, although it made me realize how vunerable we all are, and I believe, we all survive each day only by the Grace of God. So it makes me want to strengthen my character more, become a better person, so that I can be closer – when it’s my time it’s my time, I just want to be ready!
Thanks for posting!
April 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm #178065
Lisa, thanks for sharing these resources. I should say my agency has since sent out some words reminding employees of resources that are available, as a part of a weekly agency email/newsletter. Having taken many psychology courses in college, I know how just understanding what behaviors to look out for can be tremendously helpful in recognizing then normal stress/anxiety starts to cross a line. These are also great resources for supervisors to review so they can be aware of these behaviors in their staff and react accordingly.
April 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm #178063
Excellent point! That is what I really do not like, is the inundation of media coverage – it does tend to blow it out of proportion. Thanks you!
April 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm #178061
Great to hear someone with the same mindset! Quick and sure justice, and then move on – don’t give more attention to evil than to good, and then maybe society could realize the difference! Thank you Peter for sharing your views!
April 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm #178059
We have suggested training to the chief executive staff of our contracting companies on areas such as these. We have had executives get followed by people and even run off the road. There are several companies that provide self defense courses for when you are in a vehicle and you feel you are being followed and martial arts classes for protection if you are ever in need. I agree, public events and transportation do provide little security for the public.
April 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm #178057
Having “grown up” in an environment where we were required to wear badges I was always annoyed when people didn’t wear theirs. THREE DAYS after the marathon bombing I noticed 2 men without badges leaving the cafeteria. They said that their escort had to go back to her office and showed me the badge of a contractor. I replied “Al Qada has those badges.” If it happened again I would consider escorting them to the security office and reporting a violation. Comments?
April 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm #178055
Good point, and that reminds me of how important it is to wear them. I am guilty of forgetting to put it on (it’s in my purse) until the middle of the day because I use my purse to open our door, and then I’m usually at my desk for a while before I have to go anywhere. It is then I usually think about it. But we have them for a reason, and like it or not, it is reality. I think you are wise to be serious about it, and I would do that if it were me, now that you have pointed that out. That will help me remember to wear mine right from the start of the day. Thanks for the post —
April 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm #178053
Amanda. I am with the IRS in Austin. While I was not in the same building, there was an incident in which a man flew a plane into one of our buildings. Safe. What does that really mean anymore? Our brothers and sisters overseas have always had to deal with these issues. We have always been comfortable in our geographic isolation in the United States. However, the world became much smaller after 9/11. For me it started with OKC Federal Building. But it continues to get smaller. Patton Oswalt stated that the good outnumber the bad. Keep that close to you…we do outnumber them. But there will be casualties. There always are. You are safe…as safe as you can be. But you I have always told my son, our hearts have only so many beats in them, and when they run out of beats, they run out. Whether it be natural death or some act that defies the imagination. Don’t let fear and concern guide your life. Live your life happily. See, the thing about terror is not the actual bombing…or the casualties (which are truly horrible) but the impact on our lives after. The forced change to our existence out of fear. The way we view people now of different backgrounds, ethnicities, dialects, etc. The true weapon they use is fear. I know you use the word anxious and not fear, but to me they are one and the same. As long as you lead a good life doing right by others, whatever your destiny may be, you will meet it with honor and without regret.
But make no mistake, people do not like to talk about such things because it forces them to acknowledge their deepest fears. Honestly, I just do not care. Even after the plane hit in Austin, when everyone was worried it would hit our building, I thought to myself that should that occur, I will act in the way I best know how. So do what you must to overcome your feelings of anxiety and continue to do the best you can. That is all we can do. Regards…..
April 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm #178051
Ever seen a rat? Some folks live and work in circumstances where they will rarely, if ever, see one. And when they do, it is the shock of their life. heck, they may even have nightmares about it. Other folks, because of where they live or work, or both, have enough encounters that their reaction is “Aw, geez, another one? Better leave the cake in the fridge. Martha, can you go get the Warfarin box?”.
While it has seen too many of its own lose their lives in conficts overseas, the United States is blessed with having had precious little warfare (apart from Pearl Harbour) within its own borders, in living memory. The same cannot be said for most other industrialized nations, where monuments to this and that, and the preserved ruins of this or that, can be found all over. Thankfully, humans have toned down their act in many of those places, such that the experience of war is largely 2nd hand, and history-book stuff, for many. But folks remember.
The shock that you reflect, is, in many respects, a byproduct of what it contrasts with: continued peace. That’s not any sort of diminuition of the events that prompted Amanda’s thread, or any sort of delegitimization of the reaction that many have, but a partial explanation of its depth. People react strongly to things they’ve never had to live through before. And in the absence of war on domestic soil, people react to events like the Boston bombing, or Newtown, or Oklahoma City, or the Twin Towers, as if it were war. Because, apart from those that served in the military, or emigrated to these shores from places torn apart by constant war, these events are the closest many have ever come to war.
April 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm #178049
Mark I totally agree with some of your points. However, it is often our own, I say this carefully because people react strongly to it, arrogance or overconfidence, that undoes us as a society. My son is 14, but I have prepared him for these realities. I have prepared him for a Columbine. I have prepared him for WTC or OKC or Boston Marathon. I do not consider the US exempt from what the rest of the world has faced due to its relative calm. So while a person may never see a rat, they should know they exist. They should not be shocked when they see one. This should in no way be seen as diminishing what Amanda is feeling. I completely understand her concern. Her fear. Her anxiety. I wish we lived in a society that better prepared us for this sort of thing. Situational awareness without becoming paranoia. I do not begrudge her from reacting strongly. I just hope that this situation does not influence hers or anyone else in a negative way. As the word was spread that one of the men had been captured/killed, I was dismayed to see people celebrate so happily and publicly at this. We live in a televised world, furthering fueling the fires of our enemies to continue to do us harm. In my mind, it is sad any person had to resort to this. And it should not be a moment for rejoicing, but a time of reflection to ask what could we have done better as a society to prevent this.
April 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm #178047
I really appreciated your reply. I think the most important point you made is that the only thing we have control over is our own actions (and reactions for that matter). It is in the choices we made every day and our actions that will give us either comfort or uneasiness. If I know I’m not living right or treating others right I am worried, anxious, and if I am taken at that point that is unfortunate — but it is something I did. If I am doing the very best I can and doing all that I know is right, I don’t have to worry, no matter what happens. So I appreciate the reminder that in all the circumstances of my life, I will be much better served by doing right.
Thank you Rod.
April 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm #178045
Priscilla, I tell my son all the time, we cannot control the actions of others. We can just try to be aware of them. All we can control is our own actions. All we have in this world is our honor and our own personal code. If you do right by people, then when your time comes, whatever time it may be, you will go into that good night knowing you did the right thing. What we cannot do is live in fear of what is around the corner or in the next trashcan or in the bag that someone forgets. If we do that, then the people that did it have won, not because we are a casualty, but because we live in constant fear of what is around the corner.
So, I say do your worst. Try your hardest to ruffle my calm. You may take lives. You may hurt and maim. But you will never win….we outnumber you. Our collective strength is stronger than yours. Regards.
April 22, 2013 at 8:22 pm #178043
We’re on exactly the same page, buddy. Thanks for that.
April 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm #178041
Hi All, I just wanted to say a quick thanks for the thoughts, encouragement and perspective. I was surprised by all of the discussion and greatly appreciated being offered different points of view to serve as context for last weeks’ events. I hope this helped other people who were feeling as I was. I know it helped me.
More importantly, I hope this reminded at least one person at the management/supervisory level to consider the emotional well-being of their staff. National crises serve as reminders because it is easier to conceive that your staff may be impacted. However, each of us go through any number of personal crises which may have an impact on our work lives. Being aware of this, sensitive to different points of view, and open to discuss topics that may make us uncomfortable at times can go a long way towards managing a happy and productive staff.
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