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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2001

Common sense helps ease jitters

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

As a rule, when Jeremy Harris' mug is on television, my right eyebrow reflexively arches up and my nose itches with the smell of politics in the air.

This week, as Mayor Harris appeared in a slick, half-hour televised public information piece, I had to admit that under the thick layer of Velveeta, there was something comforting in the message.

The piece was entitled, "Honolulu: A City Prepared" and it included well-lit, scripted, multiple camera shots of Mayor Harris with a background of softly glowing koa paneling (and, of course, a flag) and not-so-well-lit or obviously scripted clips of various city officials.

Harris smiled confidently, trying to exude reassurance. Police Chief Lee Donohue spoke with calm authority. The fire department's voice of reason, Captain Richard Soo, as always, chose his words carefully. All gave the same message: Don't panic. We got it under control.

Political motivations aside, it was good to hear something reassuring after weeks and weeks of bad news.

But will such messages actually work to curb the more jittery folks in our community?

It seems the most useless phrase in these times is "don't panic." It produces the exact opposite reaction.

Chief Donohue put it this way: "Now just because you may have received a letter with one or more of those characteristics doesn't mean that it's harmful. In fact, it probably isn't. Use your common sense. Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to call 9-1-1."

I imagine what they really wanted to say, what so many people want to say, what those of us who listen to police scanners for hours at a time have wanted to scream all week: Knock it off already!

Emergency crews can't very well say things like, "Listen, lady. I know this anthrax thing is scary, but whoever the psycho is who sent these letters to NBC, ABC, the Enquirer and the House of Representatives probably doesn't have your address. And, no offense, but he probably doesn't consider you, a woman who lives in Mililani, has three cats and drives a used Corolla, as important enough to national security to make you a target."

Fear is a terrible thing when you let it inside you. It grows. It festers. It feeds on tiny slights and odd coincidences.

We have to guard against becoming terrorists to our own well-being. Yes, Americans have to be careful during these fearful times, but the white powder in your garbage probably came from the flour you threw out last week.

If you are so inclined, you can stay up all night thinking about all the various evil ways the bad guys can get to you. Or you can get a good night's sleep and wake up the next day calm, centered and productive.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com