Tuesday 24 January 2012

There's a disturbance in the force

While this quote from the Star Wars movies is an amusing way of using pop culture as a common reference point, I am pointing out a phenomenon I experience from time to time. I pick up the paper and read about some tragic story. However, even though the event took place many miles away and maybe even some time in the past, the gravity of situation affects me. It psychologically throws me slightly off kilter. I have a certain sense of uneasiness, a certain apprehension. I feel disturbed. I walk down the street and even though the day may be sunny and everything should feel all right with the world, something is off. I don't what exactly, but something, some little thing somewhere in the back of my mind is not quite right.

I live hundreds of miles from New York City. I don't know anybody in New York City and I know of nobody connected in any way to the city. However, when the news of 9/11 broke and I saw over and over again the footage of this tragedy unfold in some cases in real-time, I felt deeply disturbed. I remember looking out my office window on the 7th floor and wondering what would I do, say or think if all of a sudden I saw the glimmer of sunlight reflecting off the fuselage of an in-coming airplane.

In 2005, I travelled to London, England for a 14 day vacation just two weeks after the infamous London bombings known as 7/7 in which 52 people were killed including 4 bombers and over 700 were injured. While my stay was a good one, there was this background apprehension about what I would do if I was personally involved in such a tragic event.

In 2010 I travelled to Egypt and to prepare for my trip, I studied the country and its history to better understand what I was going to see. I re-read the story of the 1997 Luxor Massacre when terrorists killed 62 people then mutilated their bodies. While my stay in Egypt was excellent, which included Luxor, there were moments when I wondered just what I had gotten myself into and whether or not I was safe.

I have been on several cruises over the years and of course, sometimes as a joke make a reference to the 1972 movie The Poseidon Adventure in which a tsunami overturns a luxury liner and the protagonists must climb deeper into the bottom of the ship to go up and eventually get out. Like the rest of the world, I watched in disbelief on January 14, 2012 as the images were beamed around the world of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia toppled over on a reef and partially submerged. The subsequent telling of the stories of various passengers makes me think about my next boat cruise and how I'm going to feel about it. Cruises are fun but will there be that tiny voice in my head speculating on how to get to safety if the boat were to suddenly keel over?

In Molly Monet's blog posting Crisis Management, the author writes about the troubling news of her daughter's second grade teacher being arrested and charged with the possession and creation of child pornography. "This event was disturbing on so many levels, but the one that I want to mention is that it made me question my ability to trust people, especially men." She goes on to say that her faith in humanity is rocked and wonders what secrets each of us is keeping.

The above incidents like 9/11 are global news items all of us are aware of. However there are many lesser events, more personal events, events in my own community or neighbourhood which disturb my mental equilibrium. A crazed man with a gun took several people hostage in the middle of town and was eventually shot and killed by police. A long-term employee was fired for sexual harassment. A dedicated musical teacher was charged with having sex with several underage girls in the school choir. A long-term female employee came to work at 9am and that same afternoon at 1pm, a curt email was distributed to staff announcing her departure with no explanation.

These are all "disturbances in the force". I am personally unaffected by the event but I am disturbed by it anyway. A bombing takes place somewhere: could a bombing occur right here and could I be killed? An employee is suddenly fired: could I be fired too? A crazed man takes hostages: could a crazed person in public somewhere hurt me? A teacher is charged with a crime: is my family safe?

Statistically speaking, I'm safe. Statistically speaking, all of us are safe. Well, relatively safe. After all, when I pick up the newspaper and read about somebody dying or being hurt, obviously that someone could very well be me. Is it comforting to know that my chances of dying are one in a million? Does that make me feel better? Does that make me feel safer?

Final Word
Molly Monet's blog made me think about this "disturbance in the force", the general sense of uneasiness I get when something bad happens but not necessarily to myself. Arguably the teacher of your own daughter is hitting closer to home than 9/11 or 7/7, but I myself have felt something that close to home. (Good managers will make some attempt to assuage the fears of other employees if circumstances dictate the necessity of terminating a worker.) It is curious how events disconnected from me personally may have the power to affect me psychologically. Is this part of the fight or flight instinct or is it more complicated than that?

Update: November 15, 2016
The 2016 American Election: Donald Trump wins and is the next president of the United States. I'm Canadian. I live in Canada, another country. Nevertheless, I feel a sense of uneasiness. I'm faced with the unknown, with the unfamiliar. One could argue that shaking up the status quo is always unnerving and maybe in the long run this will be a good thing. I don't know. I'd say nobody knows for sure. This is going to happen. Like it or not, this is happening. Like many things in life, I am powerless to affect any change on events that happen elsewhere. I can only accept. It's disturbing.


Wikipedia: Force (Star Wars) : Disturbances in the Force
Those who possess the discipline and subtlety of mind to sense The Force often refer to disturbances in the Force. Since the Force is "an energy field created by all living things", a disturbance can be felt when there is death or suffering on a massive scale. A disturbance (or "tremor") may also be felt in the presence of a powerful Jedi or Sith.

my blog: The Force, George Lucas and Arthur Lipsett
Wikipedia defines "the Force" as "a binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power in the fictional universe of the Star Wars galaxy" ... but where exactly did George Lucas get this idea?

Wikipedia: 7 July 2005 London bombings
The 7 July 2005 London bombings (often referred to as 7/7) were a series of co-ordinated suicide attacks in London, United Kingdom, which targeted civilians using the public transport system during the morning rush hour.

Wikipedia: Luxor massacre
The Luxor Massacre refers to the killing of 62 people, mostly tourists, that took place on 17 November 1997, at Deir el-Bahri, an archaeological site and major tourist attraction located across the River Nile from Luxor in Egypt.

Wikipedia: The Poseidon Adventure (1972 film)
The Poseidon Adventure is a 1972 American action-adventure disaster film, directed by Ronald Neame, produced by Irwin Allen, and based on the novel of the same name by Paul Gallico. The film won a Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects and an Academy Award for Best Song (for "The Morning After"). Shelley Winters won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role.

Wikipedia: Costa Concordia disaster
The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia partially sank on 13 January 2012 after hitting a reef off the Italian coast and running aground at Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, requiring the evacuation of 4,197 people on board. At least 13 people died, including 10 passengers and one crewman; 64 others were injured (three seriously) and 21 are missing. Two passengers and a crewmember trapped below deck were rescued. The captain, Francesco Schettino, was arrested on preliminary charges of multiple manslaughter, failure to assist passengers in need and abandonment of ship. First officer Ciro Ambrosio was also arrested.

Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce - Jan 22/2012
Crisis Management by Molly Monet
This past week, something very troubling and sad happened in our lives, something that many of you may have seen on the news. My daughter’s second grade teacher was arrested and charged with the possession and creation of child pornography. This event was disturbing on so many levels, but the one that I want to mention is that it made me question my ability to trust people, especially men.

Wikipedia: Fight-or-flight response
The fight-or-flight response was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon. ... His theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. This response was later recognized as the first stage of a general adaptation syndrome that regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms.

Negative effects of the stress response in humans
The stress response halts or slows down various processes such as sexual responses and digestive systems to focus on the stressor situation and typically causes negative effects like constipation, anorexia, erectile dysfunction, difficulty urinating, and difficulty maintaining sexual arousal. These are functions that are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system and therefore suppressed by sympathetic arousal.

Prolonged stress responses may result in chronic suppression of the immune system, leaving the body open to infections. However, there is a short boost of the immune system shortly after the fight or flight response has been activated. This may have filled an ancient need to fight the infections in a wound that one may have received during interaction with a predator.

Stress responses are sometimes a result of mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, in which the individual shows a stress response when remembering a past trauma, and panic disorder, in which the stress response is activated by the catastrophic misinterpretations of bodily sensations.


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1 comment:

BigLittleWolf said...

Trust - in others, in our institutions, in the unknown - it's all quite fragile, really.

And once our beliefs are fractured, we doubt our own ability to judge. Sometimes, everything.