The Rocky Horror Picture Show
I am a chronic worrier. I even get worried when there is nothing to worry about. At age eight, after reading a pamphlet at the local pharmacy, I was convinced I had venereal disease. I think it is genetic. My father is convinced if the Bird flu does not get him, the Chinese economy will brings us to our knees and he will be dishing fast food in a Mandarin restaurant within ten years. My brothers and other men I know suffer from a similar chronic anxiety syndrome. It does not matter that 99.9% of the time, the most dramatically catastrophic scenario that we have built up in our head does not occur. It could happen. And if it could happen, I must do everything I can to hedge against this possibility.
Once I have settled on my anxiety du jour, I have this little movie theatre in my head. It seats one person. When things go bad at work or one of the children gets sick, the little man in the projection room goes down to the archive room and pulls out a metal canister with a label on it – Horror Films. The titles are familiar – How I Lost Everything, The Great Plague of 2006 and my favorite, From The Top of The Mountain to Under a Bridge in a Box. The flickering film always plays out the same way – – I lose whatever it is I hold most dear to me and end up walking around Central park clutching a bag of string asking anyone if they have seen my car.
I guess the panic reflex is nature’s way of getting your attention. You end up doing extraordinary things when you are fearful. You overachieve. You cram 10 lbs into a 2lb sack. You work until all hours getting something just right. You go for days without much sleep – – you focus on the task at hand. You also become pretty selfish. It’s all about you. Perhaps if your buttons are really pushed, you might lie, cheat or steal. In our town, that does not mean you would knock off a convenience store but perhaps you might finesse the edges of the truth or not be the kindest or most thoughtful person. You know, the person you see yourself as when you sit in church ?
It’s interesting to me that a society that has so much seems so fearful ? Is it because the media pipes us daily images of the chaos that reigns in certain regions around the world ? Is it that many of us were children of a generation that dug bomb shelters in their backyards waiting for the big one and are still waiting for the Reds to fulfill their master plan ?
In Organizational Psychology, I remember being educated on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The basic levels of the hierarchy – food, shelter, clothing were the building blocks of a behavioral and socio-economic pyramid that eventually led to an apex where one became “ self actualized “. In being self actualized, a person was essentially free of the worries associated with finding food and shelter and was free to ponder the deeper issues in life and the cosmos. The self actualized person seemed to me to be a sort of cross between Hugh Heffner, replete with robe and slippers, and William F Buckley with Barrons at his left hand and Tolstoy’s War and Peace at the right. A self actualized person was independent, all knowing and of course, affluent.
My professor never really mentioned fear and affluence being bedfellows. It is strange seeing those so seemingly immune to the vagaries of a life that happens only to other people, not acting like emancipated pillars of society but instead capable of petty, selfish and highly self interested behavior. It seems so interesting that affluence turns out not to be an enabler of self esteem, character, or courage, it just obscures the lack of it.
Most men do not refer to these issues as causing “fear”. We were brought up by a generation of dads to pound through fear like a fullback sniffing out the goal-line. We call it “anxiety”, “stress” or “dog-eat-dog “. In a society that judges the ends more than the means, the more you accumulate, the more one feels the need to patrol your borders to ensure you protect it. Ironically, when we are too busy patrolling we are cut off from the real world that desperately needs us – – our kids, our community, our world.
We consider ourselves “blessed” as we survey the beleaguered citizens of Iraq, the destitute in the gutters of Bangladesh and the crucified in Darfur. We assume that abundance is a sign of divine approval. Yet, I wonder if affluence also makes one more afraid and as such, makes it that much harder to see the forest of mankind through the trees of self preservation.
Happiness is wanting what you get instead of getting what you want. Joy is watching those you love find happiness. It doesn’t say much in that quote book about affluence other than to be careful as it may become the snare that snags the foot of one’s soul.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the house over the cardboard box every day of the week – – my lead soldiers won’t fit in the cardboard box. Yet, to those that much has been given, much is expected.
My good friend and mentor once said to me, “Mike, the day you realize it is not about you, is the day you start changing the films in your projection room.” My pastor Gary Wilburn reminds us that through serving others, we can find ourselves and be free from fear.
I have to keep remembering that because they are about to start the movie Saw IV and I am one of the stars…