In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on the controlling grasp of fear. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the latest news headline, Ebola, and how fear can alert yet blind us.
Should I go to Dallas? Would you?
Thousands of eager and spirited early childhood professionals convene annually for a friendly, often crowded, bustling and eventful professional conference, sponsored by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). We fly in from around the country (and the world), riding shoulder to shoulder in trains, shuttles, taxis and cars. For four days, we interact, hug and sometimes sneeze, primarily in public spaces.
In our field, we share. We share rooms, cabs, meals, and intimate conversations. We are literally a touching profession.
This year, beginning November 4, our annual conference is slated for the Dallas Convention Center. When you think of Dallas, does either the Dallas Cowboy football team or a soap opera about rich Texans come to mind?
Not likely. We think instead of Thomas Eric Duncan who died from the Ebola virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. We think instead of Mr. Duncan’s two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, who now suffer from the Ebola virus. We can picture the deeply mourning countenance of Mr. Duncan’s mother, Nowai Gartay, in Salisbury, North Carolina.
Newscasters tell us that an elementary school teacher in Maine, who attended another conference for educators (at a venue 9.5 miles from Mr. Duncan’s hospital) has been placed on a 21-day leave due to “parents’ concerns”. Middle school students in Mississippi were pulled out of their classes because their principal had visited Zambia. Zambia is 3000 miles away from the Ebola outbreak in Africa. As I wait for my car to be serviced in Auburn, MA, I ask an employee: “What’s your take on the Ebola situation?” As soon as she finishes telling me how afraid she is, she decides to wipe down everything around her with disinfectant.
Should I go to Dallas for the NAEYC conference? Would you go?
NAEYC assures us that health precautions will be “heightened” to keep us safe.
Fight, flight or freeze: These are our usual human responses to danger. We dig in our heels and crouch for a fight. We turn and sprint for the hills. Or we hold our breath and hope to fade into invisibility. When the bear lumbers out of the forest toward us or the guard dog snarls and growls, we seek safety.
More than anything, we want to survive and we want danger to go away. When threatened, we can’t think clearly. Our system, under the command of the protective amygdala gland, throbs with adrenalin and cortisol. If we speak, we might say something we may later regret. If we make decisions, those decisions are not likely to be reasoned.
In short, we are rarely philosophical when we are terrified. Regaining perspective takes muscular effort. Because our core commitment in early childhood is “Do no harm”, we devote ourselves to protecting children. Even if we don’t fear for ourselves, we may question whether our being in Dallas will put the children in our care in danger.
Fear spreads faster than Ebola. When I mentioned that I flew through Dallas a few weeks ago, the person with whom I spoke backed away. Approximately 5 million people fly through Dallas each month. In fact, the entire population of Dallas would be quarantined if we all followed the standard used by that one Maine school system.
As with the Black Plague and the AIDS epidemic, fear touches everyone. Ask anyone around you about the “Ebola threat”. No one has been untouched.
What we need more than anything else is accurate, useful data: Will going to Dallas put me in danger? What kind of danger? If I go to Dallas, will I in turn put anyone else in danger? What can I do to remain safe and virus-free if I travel to Dallas?
Consider these facts which have been obscured by fear:
- Dozens of people in Dallas have completed the 21 day quarantine. They are not infected.
- The World Health Organization declared that Nigeria is free of the Ebola virus. No new cases have been reported in over 40 days. Ebola can be contained.
- Theresa Romero (in Spain), the 1st person to develop Ebola outside of Africa (from missionaries who had been in Africa) has survived her bout with the illness.
- The health worker who quarantined herself on board the “Ebola cruise” has tested negative for the virus.
Will I go to Dallas? Yes. Will I give my 3 presentations? Yes. Will I enjoy connecting with old friends and making new friends? Yes. Will we hug one another? Probably. Will I go out of my way to wash/sanitize my hands? Call me crazy; but, I am likely to keep doing what I already do, use common sense, and use hand sanitizer before I eat a meal.
Would you go to Dallas? What facts would help you make that decision? If fear has ever controlled your life, how did you reclaim your peace of mind?
When we are overtaken by fear, we can’t examine the facts and reflect on our options. Fear can both alert us and blind us.
At best, fear can offer us a second chance to research, to learn, and to make informed decisions. I am not fearful of contracting Ebola in Dallas. I intend to enjoy the conference and my colleagues. I do, however, fear for the children of Liberia and Sierra Leone who will continue to suffer until systems and resources can be put in place to protect them.
BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.