Last Friday, I was working at one of my numerous jobs that takes advantage of my unique talent for stuffing and mailing envelopes when my boss materialized in front of my desk to tell me that I had caused an anthrax scare.
I didn’t understand. “I do envelopes,” I said, “not bioterrorism.”
My boss went on to say that one of the letters I had sent out caused quite a scare in one of the government offices in Santa Barbara. She said she didn’t remember which office it was. Right. She probably figured I’d do something like this.
As she told me the story, I pictured a group of suits, dressed in all their bureaucratic finery, frantically searching the office for a pair of latex gloves, a painter’s mask and a bottle of Cipro.
I could just see them carefully peeling back the envelope flap and peering inside, half-expecting to find a fine white powder, half-expecting Osama himself to pop out and give them a big wet kiss on the lips. I’d even bet one of them stood by, 911 dialed in on the cell phone, just waiting for the word to hit the send button.
They breathed a collective sigh of relief as they pulled out the banal letterhead, colored a charming shade of baby blue. Deep down on some level of their psyches they were disappointed as well. No anthrax meant to news coverage; gone were their subconscious hopes of spewing out obnoxious sound bites and garnering awe and sympathy from the community.
When they realized they’d scared themselves silly for no reason, they decided to call my boss and solicit some sympathy from her. When they didn’t find it, they figured they would at least take a shot at me for giving them the opportunity to frighten themselves.
It was further explained to me that my envelope looked just like one of the models the civil servants had seen during their terrorism training. The solution proposed by those clever bureaucrats was that I should use mailing labels instead of hand-writing addresses. As if terrorists capable of cultivating anthrax spores and ingraining themselves in a foreign culture could be baffled by Microsoft Word.
We laughed at the situation and agreed that I would capitulate to the demands of the startled government workers.
Never mind the fact that Americans have a better chance of being crushed under the wheels of a bus carrying a troupe of French-Canadian clowns than we do of dying from anthrax. It’s possible, but for Mr. and Mrs. Average American, it isn’t probable. Yet, we still remain paranoid, playing the terrorists’ game when we should be saying, “Sorry, bub, we’re taking our ball and going home.”
Our culture of victimhood is only fueling our paranoia as well. Americans have the unique quirk of actually enjoying trauma – as long as it isn’t lethal – just so we can garner the tender sympathy and pity of others. We have to realize that while this was never healthy, it’s now becoming detrimental in the battle on our home front.
In a world where the United States has its fingers stretched all over the globe, touching and influencing business and governments around the world, we’re bound to create enemies, and we shouldn’t ask the pretentious, childlike question of “Why, oh, why would anyone want to hate us?” Instead we should become aware of the role we play in the world and either accept it or work to change it.
On terrorism, caution is good, but not to the point where it infringes on our ability to live our normal lives. While those government workers were the only ones responsible for the scare they gave themselves, I can’t say their actions were ridiculous. Silly, maybe, but not ridiculous.
Daily Nexus columnist Steven Ruszczycky has learned to stop worrying and love the bioterrorism. Living Without Vowels usually appears Tuesdays.