Saturday, April 6, 2013

One Great Delusion That Limits Freedom

On the onset I want to give credit for the inspiration for this post. First, I give credit to Ben Paynter, a reporter for Businessweek magazine, who posted a query on one of the Yahoo forums I participate in. Second, I give credit to the significant number of people who reacted to Ben's query. This group represents a small portion of the nearly 9,000 members of a group called Vandwellers. I've been privileged to become part of this group of intelligent, resourceful, experienced, knowledgeable, sharing, caring, and personal freedom loving individuals. Some hold one or more college degrees in a variety of disciplines. Others are licensed crafts people and artisans. And without regard of the degrees, licenses, certifications or just their life experiences, each of these people freely shares their knowledge and experience with each other.

Now, here's what I found interesting and what inspired this post. As of this writing, there have been about 50 responses in a couple threads to Ben Paynter's query. The subject of the query is not the focal point for this post. The focus is on how this intelligent group reacted to Ben, who is not a practitioner of van dwelling or RVing, he is simply a reporter interested in understanding more about this unique and very small segment of the population. So, thank you Ben for your journalistic curiosity and thanks van dwellers for being the great folks you are.

The Great Delusion

 The "Great Delusion" is one that is as old as humanity. It is - The Fear of the Unknown. And the fear of the unknown leads to the second part of this delusional thinking, which is, "What you don't know can't hurt you."

I don't blame or berate anyone for falling into this kind of delusional thinking. I believe it's part of human nature and even the best of us fall prey to this thinking from time to time. And, by the way, I don't view myself to be any more or less part of the "best of us." I'm just a typical human being and I can, unashamedly, admit that there have been any number of times during my lifetime when I've found myself bowing to the fear of the unknown and even thinking if I don't know something it won't have some kind of impact on my life.

To be sure, before and while I'm writing my posts I'm reading, listening and researching. Sure, I interject some of my own opinions and philosophies; it is my blog, after all. But, I want to provide informed ideas and information to you, who honor me with reading my writing. In the case of this topic, I looked at a number of lists of top ten human fears and on numerous sites listed by a Google search and the fear of the unknown appears on several of them. Interestingly, on the list that gave the most logical explanations of the various fears, the fear that immediately followed fear of the unknown was, ready for this, the fear of losing your freedom. The fear of failure, fear of death, fear of rejection, fear of loneliness, fear of misery, fear of disappointment, fear of pain and fear of ridicule were all on that same list. In my book, virtually all of these other nine fears are directly related to the fear of the unknown.

So, what I have been witnessing through the comments in the Vandweller threads reacting (not responding directly) to Ben Paynter's query displayed a primary fear of the unknown - "We don't know this guy and we don't know his motivation (though I thought it was pretty clear), therefore we don't trust him because the mainstream media is going to stigmatize us." And that was followed by a secondary fear that because of any article he might write, "we might lose some or a lot of our freedom and "they" (that infamous committee of "they") will be watching for us and denying us our rights to our personal freedom and choice of lifestyle." I don't find this to be an unusual reaction. I could create a long list of small segments of our society who have a similar level of societal paranoia. And, yes, I did use the word paranoia. And whether it's clinical paranoia or societal paranoia, it is typically a manifestation of some kind of fear of the unknown.

A Sad Story Resulting From Fear Of The Unknown

This is a perfect example and a very personal one. My mother died at age 63. She died a horrible and painful death. Sadly, she didn't have to die at age 63 and might have had another 10, 20 or more years. I'll never know. Here's the story.

As a child, my mother could have been considered a hypochondriac. Not only about her own health, but about mine, too. I honestly don't believe I was a sickly child. Sure, my tonsils became inflamed as a small kid so they were removed when I was six years old. This was a pretty typical procedure back in the late 40's and 50's. Apparently, as a result or partial result of this procedure I ended up with a propensity for sinus congestion and an occasional sinus infection. In her founded or, possibly, unfounded wisdom she kept me home from school more than I was in school in second grade. Even though I had all passing grades, I had to repeat second grade (but since Mrs. Williams was my favorite elementary school teacher I didn't mind all that much). This demonstrates how she projected her hypochondria tendencies on me.

Thirty, or so, years hence, she was in her latter 50's and 60's. By this time she's at the stage of her life when the aging process begins raising its presence more and more. So, she started having gastrointestinal issues. They began to become more prevalent and pronounced. Discomfort changed to pain. But, and this is a big BUT, she feared that whatever was causing this was the worst scenario. Her fear of the unknown led her to embrace the idea that what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. It got worse and worse, but her fear of the unknown paralyzed her. By the time she reached her 63rd birthday on Sunday, August 31, 1986, she could no longer walk, let alone get herself to a doctor. She called one of my two sisters who finally convinced her to have an ambulance take her to the hospital.

My sister called me late that Sunday evening (I was living in Winchester, Virginia, about 300 miles from my home town of Clifton, New Jersey, my hometown and where my mother was), to tell me she was heading to the hospital and would call me when she knew more. About 2:00 AM Monday morning, I received her next call. She informed me that they rushed my mother into surgery, opened her up and found that her entire abdomen was engulfed in cancer that began as colon cancer. The cancer had cut off circulation to her legs and gangrene had already set in. The doctor told my sister that he gave our mother three days to live. It was Labor Day morning, the banks were closed, but fortunately there was a local community store near my home that cashed personal checks for me. So, I gassed up my car and cashed a check at the community store early in the morning and drove the 300 miles to join my sisters at the hospital.

We stayed at the hospital for the next three days, taking shifts so we could each take breaks for a little rest, catch a meal and take a shower. My mother was kept on a massive infusion of morphine to control the pain and kept sedated (unconscious) for almost all of those three days. The doctor cut back on the sedative at one point on Monday for her to become conscious enough to know that her three children were at her side. The fear of the unknown and the fear of death kicked in instantaneously as she was in total terror and screamed hysterically. She knew we were there or, at least, we think she knew we were there. That was the last time she was conscious before she took her last breath. Her hair was pure white/gray. She was only a small, shriveled representation of her former self and looked to be a hundred years old.

She died later on Wednesday, just a little longer than the three days predicted by the doctor. Thursday my sisters and I met with the mortician and made all the funeral arrangements. I then drove three hundred miles back to Virginia, got a night's sleep on Thursday night and Friday morning I drove back to New Jersey with my wife and son to greet people at the funeral parlor Friday afternoon and evening and on Saturday before the funeral service. Then she was laid her to rest with my father in the family grave site.

Fear of the unknown and what she don't know ccouldn't hurt her created this horrible, real-life scenario. I'm sorry if this depressed you, but then again, you may have real life stories that make this story mild by comparison. The truly sad part of the story is that had she not allowed her paranoid fear of the unknown paralyze her, she might have gone to a doctor when she first began noticing something unusual with her gastrointestinal system. Had she done this, the colon cancer may have been discovered early enough to have been treated and prolonged her life by anywhere from a few years to a decade or more.

Fear Of The Unknown And The Loss Of Personal Freedom

Earlier I said that following the fear of the unknown is the fear of losing freedom. When we bury our heads in the sand and believe that what we don't know can't hurt us or when we are stigmatized, misunderstood or even feared by others who don't know anything about our lifestyle or us, ultimately we risk loss of our freedom.

I firmly believe that knowledge is power. I also believe that what we don't know CAN hurt us. And that applies to both sides of the equation. As a unique group, who choose to live an interesting lifestyle that revolves around our love of personal freedom and choose to keep everything about us a secret, then do we not risk causing unwarranted suspicion and stigma by the mainstream population, who choose what may be considered a more traditional lifestyle? And, on the other hand, should we fear how the, so-called, mainstream populace will react to us if we inform and educate them to the fact that we are good, honest, productive people just like they are, who simply exercise our right to choose a different lifestyle?

I believe it's this kind of thinking that creates discrimination, bigotry, distrust, stigma, etc. A lack of understanding and knowledge about the Native American population of this continent caused a black history of terrible events. And, of course, had the Native Americans had a better understanding and knowledge of the European settlers, perhaps, they would have reacted differently. People fear other people who own large dogs. True, some dogs are trained to be attack dogs, watchdogs and defensive dogs. But, I've had two huge Rottweilers fighting each other to sit on my lap. I had a friend with a large Doberman that was one of the biggest scaredy-cats I've ever seen. I have another friend who has a huge English Mastiff. If this dog jumps up on me (and I can maintain my balance) she looks down at me. Yet, as fearsome as she appears, she is as gentle as a lamb, well, unless I threaten her owner in some ominous way. Once again, it's a lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown that cause people to react to these large dogs negatively.

Now, I know I can't convince everyone else who have established a different set of values than mine that the best way to eliminate the fear of failure is to face your fears head on, and I'm not trying to. And, certainly, I'm not saying that I'm always right. However, through my own prejudices and values, I believe that I'm freer the more informed I am. I also believe that helping others to be informed and educated about my beliefs, philosophies and lifestyle choices enhances retaining my personal freedom. When they know I'm not interested in changing their lives, taking anything they have or infringing on any of their rights, I believe my freedom is more secure.

Back To Ben, The Curious Journalist

So, Ben's journalistic curiosity (which is what journalists area supposed to be to uncover fact and truth) began with wanting to understand why there were so many RV's and van's creating a camp city in Walmart parking lots in Williston, North Dakota and other similar locations. He also wanted to know why Walmart evicted them. And that led to a curiosity about why RVers and van dwellers choose to live in Walmart parking lots (which they don't and Walmart doesn't condone) and how many there are. As he learned more about the initial questions, he became more interested in the entire lifestyle of living the nomadic, mobile RV and van dwelling lifestyle and why people choose the lifestyle.

My take on this is that if Ben doesn't get the information from the most intelligent, educated and experienced people who have chosen this lifestyle, he will get the information from someplace else. Will he find some fringe people who don't represent the larger, more representative population of this lifestyle? Will it end up in an article that will misrepresent the majority of us and result in creating more stigma and suspicion? In fact, since I've had some journalism training and know a number of journalists and retired journalists, I understand where Ben is coming from and where he wants to go with his story, if he, indeed, finds there is enough of a story to interest the readers of Businessweek, his employer.

I spoke with Ben. I answered his questions. I offered some other support information and provided other resources he might want to look into to gain an even deeper understanding of the topic. Ben indicated that he was going to be talking with others and would likely look into some or all of the other resources I provided. I believe he'll do an intelligent and informed story should it reach that point. My belief is that I've helped bolster the credibility of this unique lifestyle.

So, What Unknowns Do You Fear?

We all have fears. It's human nature. It could be as simple as the overused fear of a tiny mouse in your house. It could be a fear of snakes or spiders. It could be fear of a government that we know is dysfunctional and out of touch with the constituents it's supposed to represent and work FOR. Perhaps, you are dealing with a physical, medical or even mental issue you don't understand, but you're afraid a doctor will diagnose you with something terminal or requiring you to make some significant lifestyle changes, like my mother. However, early diagnosis and treatment might cure whatever it is or at least extend your life. Perhaps you have a fear of a religious group or some fringe group like people who ride motorcycles or cruise and explore the country in cars, vans or various kinds of RVs.

Knowledge is power! If you want to be free, you have to eliminate the fear of the unknown. The best way to eliminate these fears and be free is to face your fears. It usually doesn't mean you'll lose anything you already have in freedom, lifestyle, security, privacy and happiness. In fact, facing down your fears may very well enhance your freedom and happiness. Think about it.      


Linda Sand said...

I'm just sorry Ben began his interviews just as I began my Spring migration. I hope to get parked somewhere long enough to schedule and interview before he finishes this phase. Like I said on the forum, if we don't educate the public, who will?

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

I'm not sure where Ben's going with the article, Linda. Hopefully, you'll get a chance to contribute, too. And you are absolutely right, education and information, help raise the veil from the unknown.

Dan said...

Thanks Ed, I posted in one of the forums the suggestion to be a true investigative reporter and try the lifestyle for a while. I just met some really interesting people at Merriweather Lewis campground on the Natchez Trace in TN a site similar to BLM land out west. Some were part-time, some full-time, some travelers, some just out to learn and enjoy nature. All were common in the ability to enjoy freedom.


Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Hi Dan,

I saw your suggestion. I didn't get the impression that Ben was that kind of reporter. I think he just works from his Kansas City office and does on-line and phone interviews to gather his input.

Now, there is another reporter from Pittsburgh who followed in tire tracks of John Steinbeck on the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley" around the U.S. trip. After making the trip, stopping at places Steinbeck supposedly stopped and stayed, found whatever people were still alive that might remember Steinbeck and read Steinbeck's notes and letters to his wife, he came to the conclusion that most of "Travels with Charley" was a work of fiction by a best selling novelist. Steinbeck had traveled the route and had stayed in a few of the places, but mostly he stayed in hotels and ate at places befitting his stature of a best selling author. Now, that was investigative reporting.

Very cool on the Natchez Trace. I have to take that trip myself, yet. I enjoyed looking at your photos and reading your blog posts (though I hadn't heard of the Opera Community before). It looks like you and Layla enjoy doing what I enjoy, exploring, seeing, learning and meeting all the interesting friends we haven't met, yet.


Anonymous said...

As an free American citizen and Vandweller I could care less of Ben's motivation or article. My father taught me at a very young age not to allow others to influence me or hinder my ideas and behaviors. I truly fear no man or government, but that fearlessment has come at a high price at times. However, that defines me as that man I am, not my two college degrees, lifestyle or any amount of money. My spirit roars regardless!

With that being said who cares what Ben writes or does not write, right? It will not define any of us as how we truly are, will it? Therefore, I will not give him the time of day because it just doesn't matter in my world. My priceless energy is better spent on things that are real and matterful.

(All words are spelled correctly within this doc. Contrary to common thought there are new vistas in language!)

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Good points and certainly, while others and I may differ a bit, that's what being free is all about. We get to choose if we want to contribute to anything - whether it's an article someone like Ben is writing, volunteering at a national or state park to help keep these treasures available for all Americans and foreign visitors to appreciate and enjoy, not listening to all the crappy news about politics, war, street violence, corrupt financial executives, etc. or anything else. Degrees (I have two, also) or no degrees - we are all people and share the same rights of personal freedom, a fulfilling life as we define it for ourselves and pursuing happiness in whatever is meaningful to us as long as we don't infringe on or deprive anyone else of their rights to the same.

Thanks for your thoughts.