It’s an edgy moment, and there are dangers looming.  The horror of what we’ve just seen in the Katrina zone is still alive.  But sounding alarms is one thing.  Sounding alarmist is another.

A popular thread here recently asked us to be afraid. It made good points about the political situation but I found myself reacting to the title. For several reasons.

First, a time of danger is not a time for fear.  It’s a time for courage.

And second, fear has been the most potent weapon in the Bush-Rove arsenal. It’s bad for the country, and bad for your health.  An expert says so today in The Nation, and below the fold.  

Dr. Mark Siegel writes about it on the Nation’s site:

I want to emphasize his point on focus.  When your fear is being manipulated, or you don’t get a grip and engage some perspective, you wind letting disproportionate fears drive out your ability to respond to real and present dangers.  Like a hurricane, for instance.

Here’s part of what Siegel writes:

We are scaring ourselves about the wrong things in a way that is clearly a terrorist’s delight. (We do much of their work for them.) In 2001 terrorists killed 2,978 people in the United States, including five from anthrax, and we have been obsessed with terrorism and the supposed risks ever since.

Meanwhile, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, in 2001 heart disease killed 700,142 here; cancer 553,768; accidents 101,537; and suicide 30,622. Murders (not including the victims in the attacks of September 11) accounted for 17,330 deaths that year. The number of children who died in their infancy in 2001 was 27,801, and their deaths were no less horrible or frightening for those involved than the attack on the World Trade Center.

Realizing that we have been conned into being afraid is the first step toward learning a new set of skills to assess risk. Fear must be reserved for real danger. Each step away from false worry is a step toward true health.

Another point: letting emotions run away with us can mean we miss opportunities.  For example, many of the things people were complaining that Democrats weren’t saying, were being said yesterday by John Kerry and John Edwards, and earlier by others.  And said well.  I urge everyone to look at Kerry’s speech at Brown U. carefully.

Kerry emphasizes that our politics emerge from the simple premise that we are all in this together.  That’s not just politics. It’s governance, but it’s not just that either. It’s a way of life.

It’s also why a time of danger is a time for courage.  Because you’re no good to anyone else if you can’t function. Simply thinking of how you can help is also an antidote. If you concentrate on what others need, you can loosen the grip of fear.      

Finally, I’m going to be saying some alarming things myself on this site in the near future.  There is plenty to be afraid of, and there’s plenty I’m afraid of.  But I don’t believe things are hopeless.

Maybe that’s why I admire H.G. Wells, whose birthday is today (Sept. 21). He forecast some of the major horrors of the 20th century, and saw too many of them come true. His son believed he was deeply pessimistic.

But he also got the reputation of being an unrealistic optimist, because he saw so much in the human potential.  Here is something he said in his 1913 address, “The Discovery of the Future”:

“It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. It is possible to believe that all that the human mind has ever accomplished is but the dream before the awakening…. We are creatures of the twilight…”

I believe that, too.  So in the near future, especially when people like me are going on about this tragic need or that horrific trend, please remember this possibility.  

We may not be around for the awakening.  But we can contribute to it happening.  Sometimes all we can do is bear witness as clearly as we can to our own time, and hope that something lodges in some young mind or heart, or the collective unconscious or the morphic resonance or the Dharma, or maybe just the Internet.

And when you’re older and you see people marching for peace and justice, you can be sad it’s still necessary, but you can know they are marching because you marched on Washington in 2005.  Just as I know that some of you will be marching this weekend because I did in 1963 and 1968 and 1971. I’d be with you this time if I could get away.  

For those of you on your way to Washington, I wish you courage.