Yesterday, October 30, was the day that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert hosted “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the National Mall in Washington DC. Here in Seattle, we had our own Rally, and I attended. It was fun and joyful, and people came in a light-hearted mood: some dressed in costume, and many carried witty signs with slogans like “Rageless in Seattle” and “Less Cowbell, More Reason”. We sang the national anthem, chanted in whispers, did the hokey-pokey, and generally had a good time, even after it started to rain. The police watched from the sidelines, lattes in hand, ready to respond to trouble, but there was none. It was peaceful and a bit silly – the perfect antidote to fear and hysteria.
Fear is a powerful force. When we’re afraid, we operate from the more animal parts of our brain, the source of the “fight or flight” mechanism that has kept our species alive over the millenia. When we’re in this mode, it’s very hard to think clearly and rationally because those functions go off line so that we can respond quickly to get away from the wild animal that wants to eat us. We become jumpy and hypervigilant rather than thoughtful and methodical. If you can scare someone enough, you can get them to believe anything.
All the more reason for some calm and sanity. The problems we face require thoughtfulness and care, and we need our jittery nervous systems to settle down so that our higher thinking brains can be fully engaged, fully online. And it’s a heck of a lot more fun to do the hokey pokey than it is to rage at the TV.