Fear, turmoil and the cotton bloom

Bill Miles

A convoy of police cars, lights flashing, sirens blaring roared by where I was the other morning. Usually about all that commotion arouses is a bewildered question “wonder what’s going on?” An acquaintance whose demeanor is low key and congenial disappeared from the area where I was enjoying a cup of coffee mixed with meandering conversation. Several minutes later he returned and unassuming announced that he’d gone to check out the local school complex after seeing the law enforcement response. His explanation! “I have grandchildren at the school. I was scared there had been a shooting.” Turned out it apparently was some sort of family disturbance about a half mile from the school. An overwhelming display of firepower and manpower had been dispatched. As I pondered the man’s anxiety mingled with his obvious relief, it occurred to me that I have great grandchildren, grand in-laws, a daughter and many friends who have similar extension of kin in at least seven different schools and colleges in multiple cities and states. They are working or attending academic centers. The man was on target. What he viewed could well have been another terrible happening of which we watch the after effects on TV. Fear exists. There is no denying. But when we are consumed with fear, little productivity can be achieved. We proclaim those areas ‘safe harbors’. Are they? Not any more! One of history’s greatest presidents (FDR) said “All we have to fear is fear itself.” Thank goodness for first responders and Good Samaritans who show courage and compassion as they harness adrenalin bursts to save lives and control chaos. How’d we get so “screwed up?” Sociologists, psychologists, and everyday philosophers will debate this for some time. A number of symptoms have existed for a while. As a journalist I recognize what in the trade is called a ‘news cycle’. We are in a constantly depressing series of ‘news cycles’. When I taught youthful academic journalists, I used to explain that everything is ‘relevant’ or ‘comparable’ in regard to its opposite. For instance a building is tall when compared to one that in short. “Some days I could make news,” I explained. “On other days it may be hard for the President to be news.” That was (is) because folks want to know something new and perhaps bad as they pivot away from prevailing events. I’ve explained that Ole Miss got off the front page lead story newspapers in 1962 three weeks after James Meredith was placed on campus with the protection for several thousand U.S. troops and a mammoth conglomeration of supporting services. Why? Because A Soviet (Russia) ship carrying nuclear missiles to Cuba was encountered by the U.S. Navy and for a harried few moments this nation teetered on the edge of World War III. Then the other side blinked. That is known historically as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” On another occasion I was the first newspaperman on the scene when our Weather Bureau’s largest data colleting balloon got lost after its launching in Wichita and landed on a hilly slope covering an Itawamba County ‘holler’. That was the ‘number 1’ story on the nation’s media “A” wire devices for a short period because nothing much was going on elsewhere. Politicians know how to wait out a news cycle. Like the cotton bloom which is “first white, then red, three days old and dead”. News events are similar. An associate of mine once complimented me on political strategy by describing me as having ability to “generate urgency”. That’s helpful in getting votes. It’s essential to harnessing public opinion. Maybe it’s best accomplished when something really bad stirs us emotionally to act. Good things sooth the heart. Terrible acts shock our emotions. We apparently can’t get enough of them.

If you would like to contact Bill Miles you can email him at bill.t.miles@gmail.com

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