"The twisted distortions about 'death panels' and federal conspiracies 'to pull the plug on grandma' are just too unhinged from the reality of any actual legislation," he argues. "Those bogus fears are psychological proxies for bigger traumas." What traumas? The economy and job loss? "That's surely part of it," Rich says. "So is fear of more home foreclosures and credit card bankruptcies. So is fear of China, whose economic ascension stands in stark contrast to the collapse of traditional American industries from automobiles to newspapers. So is fear of Barack Obama, whose political ascension dramatizes the coming demographic order that will relegate whites to the American minority."
In other words, all the hyperbolic rants could be boiled down to, "I want my world back!"--a wish whose futility only fuels the angry fires. Change is coming. Slowly but surely. And that may be part of the problem. Not the change itself, but the relative slow pace of its process.
Humans, in other words, react better to a sudden change in circumstances than they do to a slow shift that allows them too much time to think, and allows fear to creep in around the edges. And the longer any amorphous fear sits there, the more it grows. Especially if a person feels helpless to do anything about it.
Several researchers and business consultants say the same thing. Dr. Mark Feldman (who wrote Five Frogs on a Log) and Alan Deutschman (who wrote Change or Die) both conclude in their books that quick change, even if brutal, is far more successful in the long run than slow change. A slow pace gives people time to feel scared about the change, and to grow correspondingly more resistant to the process.
Which is to say, if the health care system had just changed one day, we might complain, but we'd adapt. (Same with the country's demographics or economic standing in the world.) But one of the problems with a participatory, democratic process is that it's slow. And that gives fear time to gain a foothold ... and even hijack any rational thought or discussion.
So what do we do about that? Unfortunately, the process isn't likely to speed up, especially now. And when people get really afraid, they often stop listening altogether. But perhaps President Obama would do well to dust off FDR's famous "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," speech and give it an updated spin. Because the truth is, we adapt to change better than we imagine we will, when it finally comes. It's our fear of it that's debilitating. I've often said that the best antidote to fear is knowledge; we cease to fear things we know and understand well. But on that long, hard road to knowledge, a little inspiration never hurts.
(Photo: Flickr User Rob Stemple)