When we were young, we used to think he was hiding under our beds, in our closets or around the corner. Thoughts of this terrifying person kept us up at night, prevented us from closing our eyes and made us insist that our parents search every corner of our room, investigate each sound around us and make sure we were safe.
Before I was born, the boogie man was the Soviet Union, spying on us from overhead in a satellite launched in October 1957. He was watching us from above, monitoring our trips to the supermarket, listening to our conversations with our neighbors about the Brooklyn Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles or studying our driving routes to work.
Today, of course, we have plenty of reasons to fear. Terrorists have made death and destruction their business. They appear bent on the idea that killing us somehow helps them.
It’s horrifying and we need to protect ourselves. The manner in which we do that is up for debate, particularly as President Trump and his staff make a point of reminding us of all the events around the world that we should fear.
We need a strong response, a readiness to act and a careful screening process, keeping out the undesirable elements. President Obama seemed intent on protecting the populace, albeit without the same level of directed rhetoric and without policies of exclusion.
No president wants to be in the White House as the griever-in-chief when he knows he could act through policies he has the power to write.
But is there a way to look into the human soul beyond religious stereotypes and beyond geographic boundaries to know what someone may intend to do? Is this boogie man exclusively one religion? Surely, there are plenty of people who grew up in different countries and follow other religions who commit horrible acts.
Do we understand our enemy or do we just want to push those people, whoever they are — perhaps away?
It’s never been clear to me how we can protect ourselves completely from any motivated aggressor, short of living in a concrete bunker deep in the ground, with admission limited to those with a thorough psychological and DNA profile.
We don’t understand many of the mass murderers in our country. We interview their neighbors, family members and classmates after they’ve committed horrible acts. No one could possibly foresee that this unstable person was capable of these atrocities. And, if their associates could have seen it coming, they are almost admitting culpability. If they say, “Of course, I wrote in my diary two months ago that he might be a killer,” they may feel that they share some responsibility for not preventing these acts.
We need to understand each other and the way the human mind strays off track into a realm of darkness where relief and success are measured in bullets and body counts. We need to know our enemy. I don’t believe we can truly see our enemy in the color of their skin or their passport.
Our mental health system will likely receive fewer dollars in the months and years ahead, so we can focus on building walls and keeping people out. Perhaps a better investment would be to understand the people we fear. Yes, we need to defend ourselves, but we can also build a mental health system that encourages people to find ways to heal instead of hurt. Who knows? Helping the boogie man could turn him into an ally instead of a sworn enemy.