Overdoing the fear factor in real life?

As writers and readers, we love to experience a sense of fear. But it’s a different story living in a culture of fear.

We recently moved into a new town, and I immediately noticed how security-conscious the people seem. The email welcoming us to the neighborhood included an attachment with an update on local crimes. There seemed to be a lot of property crime going on. In one incident, a young woman and her father had interrupted a burglary. The intruders tied them up and held them both at gunpoint for hours.

After reading that report, I started getting more interested in the notion of home security. First I made sure we’d covered all the the standard bases of crime prevention–keeping property lights on, having a dog, never leaving doors or windows unlocked. Our alarm system was obsolete, so I met with a series of security consultants from various alarm companies.

That’s when I began to go overboard. We needed motion detectors, I decided, plus interior and exterior video surveillance. (If someone burgles our house, by golly I want to see the guy so I can identify him.) 

So now our house is bristling with cutting edge, high-tech security gear. We have a video monitor that lets us see various angles of the property. At night, the displays are infrared. (So far the only intruder we’ve caught is our male cat on the prowl for a midnight treat.) We even have panic buttons on our key fobs.

Now I’m thinking I went too far with the whole security thing. I’ve become a regular listener to the police scanner frequency. Then there are all the alerts. Our system lets me know whenever someone approaches our front gate. It also alerts me whenever a bird,  butterfly, or errant leaf passes by. I’m collecting an impressive video library of local wildlife.

MacGregor, fearsome watchdog.

Does the new system make us feel more secure? For me, it’s had the opposite effect. Putting in all these security contraptions has actually made feel more vulnerable. It’s illogical, but I felt safer in my previous state of uninformed bliss.  

But for now, woe unto any Luna moth who strays across our portal after dark. He better smile for that camera.

“Do you feel lucky, Moth?”

Do you live in a culture of fear? Or do you still have that lovely sense of being immune from danger as you go about your daily life? I wish I had that back.

32 thoughts on “Overdoing the fear factor in real life?

  1. We have two dogs (family, not protection, I don’t want them on the front lines), pistols and shotguns, and a house alarm. The house alarm has been set off more than once by me, being forgetful and in a fog first thing in the morning.

    That said, it makes me feel more secure, but I don’t monitor police band or anything like that.

    My step-father used to be in the same place you want to be. Then when his car broke down two young guys pulled over to help. And robbed him. He now has a conceal/carry and a .380 in his car. Not because he wants to be John Wayne, but because the police (you know, for those law-abiding, only they should have guns types) weren’t able to help while he was being robbed, and have never found the guys who did it since then.

    Have you gone overboard? Probably. Is it really a good idea to go back to naive bliss? Probably not, but that’s just my opinion.

  2. I grew up in the South, Jake, and have lots of relatives who have arms in the house. One of my aunts, a sweet lady in her 70’s, took pistol training after a rash of incidents in her area. She ended up becoming an axcellent shot!

  3. Sounds like a set up for a great story, Kathryn. The protagonist gets so focused on outside threats that she doesn’t see the inside threat (not to make you paranoid of your family and friends).

    One of the things I love about living in a rural area is the lack of security problems. Not that we don’t have them occasionally, but they are few and far between.

    • I’ve read that one of the reasons for the uptick around here is that the overcrowded prisons have had to release a lot of people prematurely. Big mistake!

  4. Interesting you should raise this Kathryn, as we found out yesterday that our former home in California was broken into a couple of days ago. We had an alarm and the new owners were out for only about 15 minutes but had armed it. Alarm company rang when alarm was triggered and they returned to find front door open. Burglar was scared off by alarm and had only taken one item so, at least for me, it vindicated having the alarm. There has been a huge uptick in crime in our old neighbourhood and I know neighbours have video cameras etc. But I don’t get the sense they feel like it’s a culture of fear. They are just doing what they feel needs to be done. I wonder though how I would feel living there now..hmm…I suspect I would feel uncertain and afraid in my own neighbourhood and I doubt we would stay (especially since we have young kids). It certainly makes me think about whether I would be paranoid about crime if we were still there. Where we live now if much safer but after hearing about the break in, I’m going to be arming our alarm regularly as I suddenly feel I’ve been too complacent (hmmm..what does that say about me?…)

    • I think one of the reasons this neighborhood has become a target is that it has (or rather, had) a reputation for being a relatively affluent place where people didn’t lock doors or turn on alarms. An easy target. That has begun to change, though!

  5. Kathryn, I shouldn’t laugh at your post, but it reminds me so much of a Big Bang Theory episode where the two major characters install a “state of the art security system” that ends up catching one of them in an electrified net. Seriously, our world has gone crazy, and you do what you have to do. Hope you remain safe.

    • It makes me laugh too, Richard! There was one bit in the film Bruno where Sacha Baron Cohen was asking a martial arts teacher what to do in various scenarios. That’s just what I think I sounded like when I was strategizing camera placement angles. I was saying things like, “‘If the burglar tries to break in this way,’ then ‘if he jumps over the wall, then…'”. I sounded totally ridiculous to my own ears!

  6. We have a security system and it includes the motion detector. However, when our house was burglarized last year, we didn’t have the motion sensor enabled and the shitheads threw a retention stone into our french doors at the back of the house and made off with a huge load of electronics. Luckily we have insurance.

    I get super pissed when people call the house or stop by and ask if we currently have an alarm system, probably looking to sell a security system. I always ask them, “Why should I reveal that to you, so you know whether or not to hit my house later? Yes, I have the best alarm system in the world. It’s called a 9MM Millennium Pro pistol and I’m not afraid to use it. In fact, I shot a quarter taped to the bulls-eye on a paper target from 25 yards away.”

    I also have a carry conceal permit, but I don’t carry unless I’m travelling. I feel relatively safe.

    • That’s not bad. Kathryn, maybe you don’t need the alarm system. Just hang silhouette targets in various states of dead-bad-guy around the outside of your house. Maybe one or two with a gaping 12-guage hole in the “lower abdomen” area. That may be enough.

    • I should add that to my collection of signs, Jake! I currently have a dog warning sign and a video surveillance notice in addition to the standard security placard. Hopefully the burglar will get the hint and move on down the road! 🙂

    • Diane, that’s called “Smash and Grab,” and it’s a commonplace crime around here as well! Typically perpetrated by the “Knock Knock” burglars. The m.o. of these ruffians is to knock on random doors to see if anyone is home; if there’s no answer they sneak to the back, smash a window or door window, and make off in a hurry.

    • In fact, That’s specifically why I wanted the camera surveillance–to catch any “Knock Knock” hooligan who tries our door.

      And the answer is Yes–I am getting a bit paranoid! 🙂

  7. A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables, and when he picked up a CD player to place in his sack, a strange, disembodied voice echoed from the dark saying: “Jesus is watching you.”

    He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight out, and froze. When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head, promised himself a vacation after the next big heist, then began searching for more valuables. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he hears: “Jesus is watching you.”

    Freaked out, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the
    voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot. “Did you say that?” He hissed at the parrot.

    “Yep,” the parrot squawked: “I’m just trying to warn you.”

    The burglar relaxed “Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?”

    “Moses,” replied the bird.

    “Moses?” the burglar laughed. “What kind of people would name a bird Moses?”

    The bird replies: “The kind of people that would name a Rottweiler Jesus.”

  8. Alaska being what it is, I actually feel pretty safe. We’ve had a few times when there was a short rash of break ins around town, but they don’t last long. Almost everyone up here is armed…and a lot are well practiced…my family included.

    If people want to take my stuff when I’m out they can, I have insurance…and for several years my son worked for, and became close friends with, a gentleman who has more than casual ties with the Albanian Mafia, it could be entertaining getting our stuff back.

    If they break out while any one of my family members are home? Well, see paragraph one. The blood stains may ruin the carpet, but its replaceable.

  9. We used to live in a lovely old house near downtown Fort Lauderdale. It came with an elaborate alarm system and bars on the windows. The woman we bought it from had some breakins (hence the bars). We removed the bars but kept the alarm. I grew to hate that thing because it made me become squirrely at every sound I heard in my home. I hated what it represented. Ten years ago, we moved to a condo. It has 24-hour front desk person and no one can get in. Many of us forget to lock our doors. I’ve exchanged one type of “security” for another. It’s the price you pay for living in today’s urban world. When I go visit my sister in Elk Rapids Michigan, where no one locks anything, my mistrust travels with me.

    But I NEVER leave my car unlocked and never leave a purse or a package in it.

    • When I read the weekly crime summaries, I’m always amazed by how many of them report that the car, house, or window that was used for access was unlocked. Call me paranoid, but i’ve learned to lock before I leave.

  10. Kathryn–
    Like most tech-related marketing, the push to get people reaching for their wallets for the latest gismo to protect persons and property is based on fear. Fear of being outmoded (you don’t want to run over your child, do you? Quick, buy a car with eyes in the back of its head): fear of home invasion, fear of losing contact (that phone? it’s been dumb since yesterday) –all of it has merchants rubbing their hands together. Stick with common sense, good locks and plenty of light. Forget the rest of it.

    • That sounds like really good advice, Barry. I have great faith in MacGregor, my dog. He’s big, he raises his hackles at the first sign of trouble, plus he has a very intimidating bark!

  11. Kathryn, I generally live without fear because I am prepared for trouble. I have a concealed carry permit and have had personal security training (I Strongly Recommend HOW TO BE YOUR OWN BODYGUARD by Nick Hughes, available as a Kindle ebook), and thus generally feel able to avoid trouble if possible and deal with it when necessary. I consider it insurance, the same as you have to cover your auto or possessions: you’re not living in fear of an accident, but you have coverage if you’re involved in one. Your buddy MacGregor, by the way, is one of the best tools against a break-in that you can have. Burglars, etc. HATE dogs. Noisy and dangerous is not something a home invader wants to deal with.

    • I haven’t gone the gun route yet–I may in the future, however. Basically I’ve just been too lazy to take all the training and education it would require. For now, I’m relying on MacGregor. People literally take a step back when they see him barrelling toward the outer gate!

  12. I live in a very, very rural area. The kind of crime we have around here is among the people smuggling drugs over the border; or the occasional drunken fight that ends up in some guy getting stabbed. But here in the “middle of nowhere,” we do lock our doors but don’t expect anyone to break in.

  13. It was like this in ancient Rome. This isn’t new. The bottom line is to protect yourself and your family. Let the rest of it go. In the Big City you gotta have the alarms and the signs and all the rest (including insurance).

    I’m glad I don’t live in LA anymore and have to deal with this stuff. It was always a matter of course for me to be prepared and stay alert. I think the Army woke that one up in me. And be proactive. When I lived in Huntington Beach my wife and I got first-responder training. That was an eye-opener. When big trouble arrives, you’re on your own.

    I think the gun training is good. It’s better than owning a gun and not being trained. Still, you need serious training on how to use your weapons and your skills under extreme adversity. Why? Because your head is going absolutely bonkers, and you have to work through all that immediately. Unfortunately for the “innocent victims” the bad guys often come already in their “groove” and they come heavy. They want to act as quick and decisively as possible. That doesn’t leave the victim with much time to change the situation. Bad guys count on that.

    Some people will advise you to stay passive and not aggravate the situation, which they assume is the trigger for violence against the victim. That’s not a bet I would take. I crossed that road 46 years ago and have vowed to never go quietly . . . or alone. The flip side is that I have lived with that every single day since. But I’m good with it.

    Get serious training, please.

    • I definitely will, Adam! Wouldn’t even consider having a firearm without learning how to handle it. And you’re right–one must also train to be able to respond effectively when confronted with trouble.

  14. I think the gun route is a good idea as long as you are well trained and practice at least fairly regularly.

    Ironically, the high-tech alarms going off for every bird, cat, and butterfly will eventually replace your ultra-secure state with one of false security. Once you reach the point that your first thought upon hearing an alarm is, “It’s just another cat,” you have let your guard down and become more vulnerable than you were to begin with.

    An often overlooked part of home security is simply having a plan and making sure everyone in the house knows it–just as you would for a fire, tornado, etc.

    • Just read a report for our town, in which a burglar entered a house through an unlocked door, found the car keys, and made off with the car. The owner was asleep upstairs.

      Simply locking the doors and windows, what a concept! 🙂

Comments are closed.