There is a children’s story about a boy who thought he saw a wolf at the edge of the village and cried, “Wolf”! Everyone came running, but could not see a wolf. The boy liked the fact that he was for a brief time the center of attention and decided a few days later to sound the alarm just for the pleasure of it. Again, there was no wolf and there was no wolf on the next occasion, either.
One day there was an actual wolf, and when he cried, “Wolf”, no one came and the wolf carried the boy off.
Aside from the fact that this story is probably a real disservice to wolves, the story is very pertinent for today.
Weather reporters commonly are seen standing in wind, surf pounding, objects flying by, warning everyone to leave the island, to seek shelter. While in videos like that above pedestrians are calmly walking across the screen in the background making it appear that the weather reporter is engaging in a bit of hyperbole. In Hurricane Florence hyped as a potential Category V storm, which actually hovered around Cat l-ll prior to landfall, there were similar clips. We saw houses hanging off of cliffs awaiting the storm surge that would send them into the ocean. Then we listened- now that it was clear that it was not going to be a record setting wind event - about the storm dumping record setting rain; something that actually happened.
Every time we tuned in there was some man or woman in a baseball cap, rain gear flapping in the wind with whitecaps in the background.
We are told that the weather people are just doing their job. They're just trying to keep us safe.
The following video is memorable, not for the wind effect, but for the creepy music and melodramatic narration.
Increasingly, it seems, everything is sold with fear. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney sold us on the war in Iraq with the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction stockpiled by Saddam Hussein. Identity protection is a thriving business as are home protection systems. People are sold on the idea of gated communities on the premise that the gates will keep riff-raff out. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people seems comforting.
The Weather Stations tout every storm as potentially the worst of all time, the storm of the century, a potential killer, likely to cause record setting property damage.
People become complacent. Eventually, there will be a “storm of the century” and people will stay at home because “It is never as bad as they say it will be”.
All of the 24/7 “News” channels; CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, endeavor to keep a story going, to milk it for every drop of fear and alarm so that the viewer will stay tuned in and keep coming back (and the owners will gain market share and advertising dollars).
In the ideal world of marketing basic needs are not met, because there is increased motivation for finding a means toward meeting them.
We worry about being blown away or drowned. We worry about our relatives being blown away or drowned. The bigger the storm the more likely that someone we or someone we know will be involved.
Maslow, in 1943, proposed a hierarchy of needs that were portrayed as levels of a triangle with the most basic needs making up the base.
The most basic needs are for shelter, food, sex and rest.
Immediately above that level of physiological needs is the need for safety.
These needs are considered deficiency needs, and the more they are satisfied the less our motivation to have them.
On the other hand, needs above that level – those related to self-actualization and recognition work in the opposite direction. The more they are satisfied the greater out motivation to increase them.
So, “safety”, which includes police protection, fire protection, protection under the law, as well as national security, is a motivating factor only so long as needs are not met, or, there is a perception that they are not being met.
Maslow’s work was initially interpreted to indicate that we could not attend to higher level needs until lower level needs were met. He later clarified by saying that lower needs don’t need to be completely met in order to realize the attainment of higher needs, but it would seem that not having more basic needs met would divert energy that would otherwise be directed toward intimate relations, friendships, job satisfaction and recognition.
The use of fear to sell more police protection, militarized police units, a larger army, enough nuclear weapons to kill all of mankind fifty times over, border walls, residential alarm systems, and air time are detrimental because they deter us as a nation from engaging in healthier pursuits, and they use up valuable resources in the process.
And there is the “wolf” factor. Eventually, when there is a real threat we will have become to numb to react, too inured to believe, and we may be laboring under a false sense of security, thinking that our border wall will keep out “illegals” and criminals.
Mexicans and Central-Americans know about boats.
Or by banning Muslims we will prevent terrorism on our soil.
The Unabomber (Theodore Kaczynski), Timothy McVeigh, and Terry Nichols were all home grown terrorists with no ties to Islam.
The problem is that many will grasp at anything to feel more secure, and the more insecure we feel, the greater the motivation.
In a recent essay in The Atlantic written by Hillary Clinton it is pointed out that thirty years ago 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats said that they would be upset if their child married someone from the opposite political party. Now, 49% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats would find that distressing. It was Clinton’s point that fears and mistrust are destroying our democracy.
We are constantly being reminded of things to fear. It is not that there is nothing to fear; it is that the things we fear are rarely a problem and the thangs that become a problem are rarely the things we feared. My mother had macular degeneration and became functionally blind because of it. I assumed that I would have that, as well. I do, but I had my vision loss from something wholly unrelated.
We are tilting at windmills taking them for giants.
In his first inaugural speech, at the depth of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” . That line, it turns out, was not original to FDR. It was first said on record by Francis Bacon 400 years earlier about loss of fortune in his work, Tribute. Regardless, the sentiment is true, and FDR gets points for listening in school.
What can be done about the pervasive use of fear in sales? We can’t change the behavior of those using it to sell their product. We can be aware of it, however, and avoid falling victim to the ruse.