Phobias tend to be irrational; the fear of clowns, spiders, or the dark fall into the latter category. But the most deep-rooted and almost universal fears are much more simple, stemming from a rational and sensible instinct for self-preservation. From people lurking in dark alleyways waiting to pounce on us as we walk by, to car accidents, to having our houses burn to the ground, to acts of terrorism, this world can be a terrifying place.
Some of the more universal fears rank pretty low on a prioritised list, simply because the likelihood of ever falling victim to that particular evil is relatively small. Of course, as long as a form of evil exists there’s always that chance, however slim, that you may find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s those chances, small though they may be, that evoke the most profound fears shared by entire civilisations. The following list details just such fears that are shared by most Americans, according to a Gallup survey recently conducted to find out what Americans fear the most.
10. Getting murdered – 7%
This one is a pretty obvious fear. Considering how permanent getting murdered would be for a person, we might reasonably think this one would be further up on the list. But in actuality, people likely stress less about it because it’s not a likely eventuality: The average person has approximately a one in 16,000 chance of being murdered, which aren’t particularly scary odds. Unfortunately, living in the Americas greatly increases those average odds four times over. If you’re not involved in organized crime or gangs, then your greatest risk of being murdered comes from people you know, especially if you’re a woman. In fact, the majority of women are killed by their nearest and dearest, while most men are killed by people they may not even know. It seems this fear is rendered all the more sinister by the fact that American women just don’t know who they should trust.
9. Being a victim of hate crime – 8%
A hate crime is a crime motivated by hatred or prejudice and, ironically, fear brought on by ignorance. Everything from vandalism to cross burnings to lynchings are considered hate crimes, and they are often violent in nature. Certain groups are more prone to hate crimes than others, such as racial or sexual minorities. There are even, unfortunately, illegal organised hate groups in America to this day, promoting heinous violence against those who aren’t like them. White power groups, for example, strike fear in the heart of many.
8. Being victim to terrorism – 10%
Since 9/11, terrorism and threats of terrorism are something most of us are aware of in our daily lives. When you fly, you now go through many more screenings than ever before to prevent another deadly hijacking from occurring. Americans are more aware of their surroundings, especially suspicious packages, and bomb threats are something the authorities take very seriously. Still, it would seem that only 10% of Americans actively fear being a victim of terrorism often – perhaps it’s one of those distant fears that we don’t think will happen to us?
7. Getting mugged – 11%
When we’re walking down the street, especially at night, and someone appears to be following too close… Well, who wouldn’t be nervous, at least a little? Of course, unless you find yourself in such a situation, you may forget about these fears – which is why only 11% of people regularly fear being mugged. Still, this is one of those instances that would undeniably be horribly frightening were it to occur, even if no violence was involved.
6. Having home burglarized when you’re home – 12%
Having somebody break into your home while you’re away is bad enough – to have the sanctity of our homes violated is a scary thing. But the idea of somebody breaking into our home while we’re there takes that fear to another level – a fear which has inspired many terrifying ‘home invasion’ horror movies. In this scenario, not only must you fear the loss of your material things – perhaps the loss of irreplaceable sentimental items – but you’re also facing the potential loss of your very life. After all, if somebody is willing to break into your home while you’re there, there could be no limit to what they’d feel comfortable doing.
5. Having school-aged child physically harmed at school – 14%
Columbine and Sandy Hook are words that strike fear into most parent’s hearts, and with good reason too. Many people like to imagine that their children are safe at school, and for the most part they are. But then a national tragedy occurs in which school kids are the victims, and it shakes many people’s faith. Even beyond the large-scale tragedies, however, there are fears over bullying, fights and drugs. It’s no wonder that parents are nervous sending their children out into a world like that.
4. Having your car stolen or broken into – 16%
We’ve all been there before – we come out of the mall and can’t find our car in the crowded parking lot. We tell ourselves to remain calm as we wander from row to row, telling ourselves that we simply forgot that we actually parked in A-2 rather than in Z-2. But all the while, that lingering fear that somebody snatched our car nags at our subconscious.
The loss of a car to thieves is a horrible thing, not simply because it’s the loss of an expensive, material item, but because of the personal violation and the loss of freedom – not to mention the headache with the insurance company.
3. Having home burglarized when you’re not there – 17%
If you’ve ever come home to find that your place has been ransacked, you know the terrible feelings it inspires. Not only has somebody broken in and stolen your material things, but they’ve violated the sanctity of your home. While the material items can always be replaced, that sense of violation, and the loss of security that comes with having somebody enter your home while you’re away can linger on. For some, it never goes away. Our home is supposed to be the one place in the world where we can all feel safe and secure. When somebody breaks into that place, they take not just televisions and stereos, but our sense of security.
2. Being victim of identity theft – 31%
This fear is an unfortunate sign of the times, surely. Yes, technology is an amazing thing, but sometimes, there are downfalls to that. And one of those downfalls happens to be the rise in identity theft thanks to more and more of our essential personal information being managed electronically. Sure, our ancestors probably worried a little about identity theft, but not to the extent we have to fear it today. All it takes is someone getting hold of some vital information, and our whole lives can quickly unravel before our very eyes. Perhaps it’s the ever-present threat of this particular evil that causes Americans to fear their information being leaked to others more than they fear being murdered.
1. Having email/phone records used by unauthorized persons – 38%
People have long suspected that the government has been tapping into our email and listening in on our phone conversations. Then, Edward Snowden recently confirmed that all of our worst fears were true in that regard by revealing that the NSA has been doing just that, to millions of people, for quite a while. And while that’s bad enough in its own right, it’s not just shady government organizations who are going through our emails and phone records without our knowledge or consent. There are dangerous individuals and underground groups out there doing the same thing for even more nefarious purposes. And that invasion of our privacy, the inability to be secure in something as simple as our email or phone interactions with friends, colleagues, or anybody really, is continuing to inspire fear in most of the American people.