President Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered the famous phrase, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," in his 1933 inaugural address. In the current political climate, these words are still relevant.
Last week, several McLean members of the Fairfax League of Women Voters held a discussion on "The Politics of Fear" at the McLean Community Center. The various branches of the league meet on a monthly basis to discuss various topics, although last week's was a little out of the norm.
"This is not typical," said league member Gail Huh. "We don't generally discuss philosophical topics. It's usually to discuss something that we are lobbying for."
The topic may not have been something on which the league plans to take action, but it did spark a lively conversation about fear and the role it plays in society today. For her part, Huh does not feel afraid.
"I suspect the older people in the U.S. today are not as inspired by fear as the younger generation," said Huh. "I'm not sure if it's because of what we've been through, or because you have less in front of you when you're old — you're not going to give birth or raise children. .. but no matter what I say, I do feel that my country is experiencing fear."
Anne Kanter, chair of the league's McLean unit, says that she sometimes finds herself wondering about her safety, living so close to the CIA headquarters at Langley.
"And after 9/11, I started considering what room would be the best room to tape up in the event of an emergency," said Kanter.
League member Jeanette Calland said that there is one event in particular that made her fearful.
"The most afraid that I have felt in years was when the sniper was here," she said. "I would step out of my car and feel visceral fear."
However, fellow member Peggy Knight had a different reaction.
"I guess I'm somewhat of an odd duck because my attitude was I'll be damned if they are going to stop me from living my life," said Knight. "We live now in such a terrible, terrible state of fear, and I think it's unwarranted fear."
THE CONSENSUS among the women at last week's discussion was that the younger generations seem to handle their fear in a different manner.
"They appear to have a belief that through your own actions, you can exert control over your circumstances," said member Joanne Field. "They believe they could have and should have total control over their circumstances."
Gail Huh said she found it interesting that people seem more afraid today, considering all of the war and terror that has gone on in the past.
"I remember in the '50s when you had to hide under your desk because of the Cuban Missile Crisis," she said. "That was very, very scary, and we aren't talking about bombs that would destroy a bridge or a tower. We were fearing almost total annihilation on some level."
However, Canter pointed out that in today's society, the "bad guy could be the guy next door."
Huh said that she noticed a theme in the discussion, which was that today's society has the sense that "the world is out of control," and that it is this lack of control that is the driving force behind fear. The discussion participants agreed that the only thing that can make people feel more in control is to take some sort of action, no matter how small it may be.
"That's why people should vote," said Canter. "You've got to become active because then it's not happening to you."