Your Views About Crime Could Be Killing You

This is an occasional blog on subjects pertaining to leadership, strategy, coaching, leadership development, and everything in between. You can sign up using the form at the left/below. © 2016 McKnight-Kaney.

YOUR VIEWS ABOUT CRIME may be one of the best diagnostic devices there is for assessing your commitment to Survivor mode. Which of the following statements are true, which false? I'll give the correct answers below.

  1. Incarceration in America is going up (this much is true) because crime is increasing
  2. The 20th century was the most violent century in human history. 
  3. A 50% reduction in the rate of crime over the next 30 years is likely. 
  4. The average American has a far greater chance of winning a $1B lottery than perishing at the hands of a terrorist. 
  5. The people who are least vulnerable to violent crime are the most fearful of being a violent crime victim. 

Those familiar with my work know my three psycho-spiritual states model, the one that says we can live from within the Victim mentality, the Survivor mode, and the Navigator mindset. This blog is about the Survivor mindset which is commonplace; in fact, it is the most frequently employed approach to life there is.

At the bottom of the Survivor mindset is this view: I must be vigilant lest I not get my needs met. I must be on guard. At all times.

This mindset urges us in the view that we must be wary and protect our interests. Those who hold this view might as well be wearing a shirt on which is emblazoned the motto, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” The only problem is that when we’re mired in this mode of living, only others can see the words on our chest. (Meditation can help make this evident to us.)

The person who lives by the Survivor mode—and that is all of us some of the time—is hopeful and distrustful at the same time, going through life, metaphorically speaking, stepping simultaneously on the brake and the gas. The result is chronic, low level tension that, over time, often leads to psychosomatic distress: chronic lower back pain, frequent headaches, essential hypertension, even the wrinkles that come from rigidity and guardedness. This is why the vast majority of ailments seen in the offices of internists each day are for this type of illness. By our way of living, we are literally making ourselves sick.

Here are the answers:

1: False. Incarceration in the U.S. is skyrocketing due to laws that say drug addiction is a crime, not because crime is increasing generally. In fact, crime is going down rapidly and dramatically in our country. According to the keepers of national crime statistics, the crime rate in 2015 was about half of what it was in 1991. Yet, sociologists tells us that the more you watch or read the news, the higher you estimate the rate of crime to be. 

2: False. In fact, the 20th century, despite two bloody world wars, was the most peaceable time in history to be alive and this trend accelerates. If you find this hard to believe—and most people do—read Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, or easier, since it’s 800-pages long, read this review of it in the New York Times: Pinker’s book has been widely praised. 

3-5 are all true. Violent crime has not vanished, of course, but the forces that contribute most to a decline in crime are proliferating across the globe: democratization, the rule of law, education, reductions in poverty. Many criminologists predict a 50% decline in crime over the next 30 years. Despite the worries many of us have about ISIS, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Russia, the likelihood of our dying or even being harmed by terrorists or war is infinitesimal.

Those in our society least vulnerable to violent crime—white women living in the suburbs—are the most worried about it and feel the most vulnerable to it. Why? Perhaps because they are consumers of news. Women of color who live in large inner cities where crime is the highest are far less concerned than suburban white women where crime is lowest. Inner city men of color, most vulnerable of all to violent crime, also have far less “worry rates” about crime than white women.

Everyone knows that we don’t build our lives only around facts and logic; many of us are driven at least as much by emotions and untested assumptions and perceptions. Donald Trump played on this phenomenon. In his acceptance speech at his convention, he painted a dark picture of crime in America, using statistics that were almost 100% false.

For many, views about crime are both the result of and a consequence of the innate tendency to see the world through the eyes of the Survivor mentality. I know this because I have had perhaps two dozen conversations with highly educated people about the claim that violence is declining rapidly, and every time, I am met with statements that sum up to, “I don’t believe it.”  

Why do we cling to the view that we’re surrounded by ever-escalating crime and violence? I believe it’s because of the self-protective mechanism I call the Survivor mindset. We do ourselves a favor, and significantly increase our opportunities for easier living if we challenge these assumptions and stop the largely unnecessary war on crime going on in our own heart. When we give up cynicism and negative forecasts, we open ourselves to more serenity.