Travel Advisory: Live Creatively

Following the multiple attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali, plus the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, the US State Department issued a worldwide travel alert for American citizens, warning them of possible threats from terrorists in foreign countries.

Unlike past warnings, this recent travel advisory did not specify any specific countries or regions that are more dangerous than others to Americans. It just warns that “extremists have targeted large sporting events, theaters, open markets, and aviation services” and asked Americans to “exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.”

As Zach Beauchamp noted on in an article published on November 23, 2015: “So, in short: Be afraid wherever you’re traveling, however you’re traveling, and try to avoid being in public. Yikes!”

Ah, what a way to celebrate Thanksgiving (and Christmas, and New Year’s, and Valentine’s)!  Well, at least, this warning has an expiration date – February 24, 2016.

An American friend of mine living in Davao asked for my advice if he should return to his home country with the threat alert levels being high. I wish I could be more helpful and reassuring, but this was my response: “I am sorry you feel unsafe and I understand your concern. But I think there are no guarantees in life. We all can get killed anywhere at any time. Random shootings in the US, too, for no apparent reason. Attacks everywhere even with all the security measures. It is a crazy world. I think what we can do is only live our lives surrounded by people we love and who love us, doing what we love. If we are living the life we want, it does not matter where we are. And it will not matter when, where, and how we leave this world. Because there will be no regrets. Because we know we lived the life we were meant to live. We should not worry about how we will be dying someday, but how we are living the moments we still have now.”

I may have sounded a little like Oprah, but I really believe the best way to handle any fear is to just live the life that makes you more joyful, more loving, and more free. When you live passionately and meaningfully, you are fearless.

David Rothkopf, CEO and Editor of Foreign Policy magazine, had a very interesting TED talk entitled “How fear drives American politics.” He talked about the difference in the response of the American government during the threat of a global thermonuclear war during the Cold War and the one after the 9/11 attacks.

Rothkopf pointed out that “despite the fact that we lived for 50 years with the threat of a thermonuclear war, the response of our government and of our society was to do wonderful things.” He said the US created the space program, the highway system, and the Internet in response to that threat. “Sometimes fear can produce a constructive response,” he noted.

The US had a different response following the 9/11 attacks, though. Rothkopf described it as a “disproportionate response” — disproportionate to the point of “verging on the unhinged.” He said that the US government rearranged its entire national security apparatus in the most sweeping way since the end of World War II. It launched two wars; spent trillions of dollars; suspended its democratic values; put countries and millions of people under surveillance; violated international law; and embraced torture. And, for the first time in history, America saw everyone as a threat.

So from 100 members of core Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, the world now has more terrorists, more terrorist attacks, more terrorist casualties, and more instability.

Rothkopf believes this disproportionate response stems from a “creativity crisis” gripping Washington and many other capitals right now. Think tanks, where people are supposed to be thinking new ideas, are not coming up with bold ideas. Because those who think of creative solutions to social problems these days are attacked and dismissed as being crazy and unrealistic. In that mode, governments have an us-versus-them mentality with tiny groups of people making decisions. So we get groupthink where everybody has the same worldview, and any view from outside of the group is seen as a threat.

With this kind of thinking, we end up treating only the symptoms and ignoring the bigger, deeper problems and issues. As Albert Einstein said: “ We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Rothkopf thinks this breakdown in how governments think is caused by the lack of partnership and dialogue between policymakers and creative thinkers and innovators. He calls for another Renaissance where science, technology, philosophy, and the arts collaborate with governments.

The real terror we face is how thinking creatively is not being nurtured and encouraged these days. We are trained to just become passive consumers of information who can be easily manipulated and distracted. We are conditioned to just follow the trend they set, obey their rules, go with what is popular according to mainstream media. They keep us confused and deprived so we will only focus on survival and not reflect on life and be inspired to dream.

Any advice that keeps you from going out and exploring the world, connecting with others, and discovering different ways to live is always bad advice. A creative life is a life doing what you love. A creative life is one that empowers you to design and build a world that makes you happy. Living in fear is not living at all.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, November 26, 2015