What do you think of when October comes around? Autumn, pumpkin pie, candy? Or death, horror, and fear? With this month culminating in Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), we can’t step into a store or turn on the TV without seeing scary images, some fun and others gruesome. Perhaps that’s why Chapman University in California chose October to announce the results of their annual study of what Americans fear most.
©2017 Kari Carlisle
Two of my own “fears,” clowns and spiders, appear on Chapman’s list at #76 and #50, respectively. Had I been one of the 1207 Americans surveyed for this study, I probably would not have answered clowns and spiders as one of my fears, though. They are more a revulsion for me rather than a true fear.
It’s famously said that the number one phobia of people is public speaking and that number two is death, so people would rather die than speak in front of a crowd. Interestingly, Chapman’s 2017 survey puts death at #48 on the list and public speaking at #52, a more appropriate order but well below the #1 and #2 spots.
Looking at the top ten fears in the 2017 study results, you can see that all ten are easily categorized into three main fears: political, financial, and environmental.
Given today’s political climate, it’s no wonder that three of the top ten fears have to do with corruption, legislation, and war.
#1: Corrupt government officials
#7: The U.S. will be involved in another world war
#9: North Korea using weapons
Fresh out of the Great Recession, many Americans are still feeling the effects of a poor economy so it’s no surprise that financial concerns are included in the top ten.
#2: American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare
#5: Not having enough money for the future
#6: High medical bills
Interestingly, environmental issues are weighing heavier than ever on Americans’ minds. Whether this is due to increased education on environmental issues, the change in political priorities, or a combination of multiple factors, I think it’s a positive sign that people are recognizing environmental issues as a major concern.
#3: Pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes
#4: Pollution of drinking water
#8: Global warming and climate change
#10: Air pollution
There you go. Americans have spoken. Or 1207 of them, anyway. Although we don’t know the details of the study other than the sample was taken “across the United States,” the results do seem relevant. The question becomes what do we do with this information?
Psychologists have identified a propensity for animals to react with a “fight or flight” response when faced with a dangerous situation. With humans, it’s a little more complicated. Sure, there’s the “fight or flight” response, but what that looks like can vary dramatically.
The flight response in humans may not be a literal running away but may include avoiding the news (like I do), not voting, and relying on others to take care of the problem(s). I think this is the standard response of most humans to many problems, especially if they seem too big. This response has the effect of “protecting” the individual in the short term, but the complexity of the 2017 top ten fears will potentially affect everyone. I can ignore or run from a spider, and it may or may not bite me, but if I don’t respond to these real fears, the outcome could be devastating to me and everyone.
The fight response in humans is even more complicated than the flight response. Rather than mere avoidance of some kind, fighting involves action. What form that action takes is the wild card. Take politics… Small fight response actions include voting, signing a petition, or contacting legislators to urge them to vote a certain way. Bigger actions might include lobbying, canvassing, or donating to a candidate. Huge actions might include running for office or assassinating an official. You see how the fight response can go from effective to destructive? Like I said, it’s a wild card.
Nations across the world are facing political, financial, and environmental problems. It’s not just the United States. And how we face these fears affects everyone. We may have numerous philosophies on how to manage the threats we face, but avoidance is only sure to allow problems to go unchecked. Take a stand, even if it’s a small one. Start in the voting booth and the checkout stand, and take it from there. Do something bigger for the issues you care about (or fear most). Just please keep your actions civilized and peaceful.
What is your number one fear? What have you done to make a difference?