For many veterans, venturing out in a crowded public place can mean a good deal of stress and anxiety. Whether it’s your local Applebees on Trivia Night or the recent Presidential Inauguration, years of training keeps some of us in a steady state of unease, constantly looking around for where a threat could be coming from, concerned about how the crowd will react if things were to get hairy. In the eyes of many, including my wife, this low-level anxiety is nothing more than paranoia – but in a life or death situation, it boils down to simple awareness. If we ever were to find ourselves in an emergency, it could be that paranoia that gets us out alive.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, growing up in the developed world has awarded many of us a uniquely naïve perspective on life. We tend to think of things as peaceful, and for the most part, unchanging. We get riled up about presidential elections and the like, pretending we believe each change of power will usher in some kind of an end to the peace we’ve enjoyed all our lives, but at the end of the day, we all expect to come home to our houses and apartments, pop on Netflix, and watch “Stranger Things” again to get a taste of what the world would be like if we weren’t safely snuggled into a cocoon of having the world’s most powerful military protecting our borders and an army of first responders waiting for the chance to come help us if we need it.
This comfort level really is a gift. In many nations around the world, and indeed for the better part of human history, the possibility of suffering a sudden and violent death was always a real one. We evolved to be constantly aware of our surroundings, paranoid about what could come out of that dark area just past the horizon, or out of that creepy crawl space beneath your grandmother’s porch. As a result, those of us fortunate enough to live in the relative safety and security of the United States grew up training ourselves to ignore those fears – we all had to reach that point where we shut off our night lights, and when we embraced the idea that the dark wouldn’t bring with it any new dangers.
Over years of development, our habit of silencing our fears develops into what is commonly referred to as “normalcy bias.”