Sharks Among Us


Humans have a fascination with creatures in the sea. One of the greatest novels ever written uses a whale as a metaphor. A blockbuster movie made us all more cautious of sharks that may lurk in the waters at the beach. In ancient times shark teeth were thought to have magical powers. Greeks festooned their pottery with images of fish and whales and sharks. Some how these creatures are more mysterious because they live under the water where we cannot see them unless they choose to emerge. 

Today we have Shark Week on the Discovery channel boosting ratings each year. The hilariously silly Sharknado movie has taken on a life of its own. In spite of the improbability of the stories, millions tune in each time there is a new version. Somehow we have installed sharks as a kind of national obsession in which we either think of them as grandly beautiful specimens of nature or frightening creatures akin to monsters.

We’ve even transformed our language to speak of reprehensible characters as “sharks’ who dupe us. On the other hand someone who is exceptionally good at something is sometimes called a shark as well. Thus we have sharks who cheat us and card sharks who amaze us with their skill. Our human emotions about sharks seem to waver between admiration and stark terror. 

There seems to be a great deal of that kind of thinking throughout human history. We either fear or prize people and situations that we do not understand. Instead of searching for truth we tend to follow whatever kind of group thinking that is most popular at the time. It is the kind of distrust or adoration that creates upheaval and even war. We look for saviors who may indeed be sharks of the reprehensible kind or we run from those that we fear who may in fact be harmless. You would think that we might be advanced enough in our reasoning and educations that we would do some research before jumping to conclusions, but we still too often simply react. 

This is a time when we seem to be drowning in alarm. Perhaps we have a bit of PTSD from all of the things we have endured over the past few years. Maybe we can even go back decades to trace the root of our anxieties. There is little doubt in my mind that the events of September 11, 2001 affected our national psyche. I suppose that we mostly felt safe before that Tuesday and even a bit naive about the world back then. Suddenly we were faced with the unthinkable. It made us fearful and we are still reminded of that every single time we fly on a plane. 

Then came the devastation of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. It opened a dark window into our relationships with people and ways of living with which we are unfamiliar or maybe even judgemental. We saw how powerless we can be in the face of nature’s wrath. Since that time we have almost become numb to the destruction of fires and floods and tornadoes. We are reminded again and again that it only takes a moment to destroy what we have built and lately such events are happening more and more often. Some raise the alarm and others simply look the other way. 

It seems to be the way of humans to be divided as to how to deal with the situations that we do not fully understand. When we lose control we react in different ways. Thus we looked at the recent pandemic either as a moment to work together to protect each other or a time to demand our freedoms from measures judged to be oppressive. 

Perhaps it is our natures that work against the concept of joining together to solve the problems that come our way. Maybe that movie about the shark in the waters of  Cape Cod captured our behaviour better than we thought. There will always be those who want to proceed with caution and those who deny the dangers that we face. It is only in hindsight that we can determine who was right and who was wrong. Even then it may be difficult to be certain that one way of thinking might have worked better than another. 

The fact is that we can only control our environment so much. There are no walls high enough to keep us safe. We cannot predict or prevent the vagaries of random events that threaten us but we can take reasonable measures to keep the ruins as minimal as possible. Fear does not have to be our constant companion the way it seems to be today. We simply need to be alert to our environment and willing to take measures that may inconvenience us but will lead to better days for most of the world. 

The sharks are in the water. They are on the land attempting to dupe us. Nonetheless we have sharks who are so skilled at actions that will save our lives that we should be willing to hear what they have to say instead of relying on fables and fears. Knowledge won’t prevent all horrific moments, but it just may decrease our chances of having to endure them.