Fear is mankind’s biggest enemy
By: Saad Al-Dosari
Few months ago, when the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus was the talk of the Kingdom, Jeddah in particular, a kid in my son’s school was reported sick. The news did not take long to spread between mothers’ of the children. Within few hours, there were heated discussions whether or not they should send the kids to the school. This writer’s wife contacted the school and the administration assured us that there was nothing to worry about, as they were following up with kid’s parents and it seemed that he only had caught a cold. About 30 percent of our son’s classmates remained absent for the next two weeks although the sick child got back in two days; it was a cold indeed.
I was reminded of this incident while reading about the panic that has gripped Europe and the US because of Ebola.
The similarities between the two cases and how people are responding to the reports with fear, rumors, and exaggerations are so subtle to overlook, calling for psychologists to investigate into this phenomenon. That does not mean in any way that fear in such cases is not justified, the death toll is a reason enough to take notice, “If the risk is that you might die, then it is a big deal,” said Angela McLean, an Oxford University mathematical biologist, about Ebola. The problem is that in many cases, the reaction to the reports about the virus seems to be overblown.
During the MERS days, there were Saudis who stopped going to work, praying in mosques, and sending their kids to school, as if the virus was waiting just outside their doors to infect them. Some of them completely abandoned their social lives and decided to stay grounded so as to minimize the chances of contracting the virus. If one notices in both the cases, health workers were the first ones to have got infected.
Europe is going through a similar panic these days; legislators are struggling with flights ban decisions, airports screening procedures, and sealing off complete buildings with people inside just in case! In Macedonia, the authorities decided to seal off a hotel in the capital for days, keeping all guests inside, after a British guest died in his room, fearing that the cause of death might be Ebola; it was not, and he died because of alcohol abuse.
It is not news that we, the people, have always showed a great amount of fear whenever faced with the unknown. However, such tendencies seem to be intensifying as we become more civilized and attached to science; unknowns have no place in the modern minds that believe in logical relationships, that everything is, somehow, subjected to a mathematical formula.
Claudine Burton-Jeangros, a sociology professor at the University of Geneva, told the New York Times “We live in very secure societies and like to think we know what will happen tomorrow. There is no place in our rational and scientific world for the unknown.”
“Objectively, the risks created by Ebola in Europe are very small,” said Burton-Jeangros, “but there is an uncertainty that creates fear.”
Media, unfortunately, is playing a major role in spreading panic and unrest. Flashy headlines and lengthy reports about the viruses’ causalities led to nothing but intensifying fears, preparing the public to be more receptive to rumors and wrong information. In the Kingdom, it was until the Ministry of Health modified its approach of sharing information about the virus, the flood of scares and rumors through media channels and social media platforms receded. You barely hear any talks about MERS these days although it still exists.
It is not the viruses, the wars, the terrorism that we should be worrying about; it is the fear of standing up and facing them.