Human Matters: Fire in the Barn
I’m confused. Off balance. Like I always am whenever someone plays “There’s a Fire In The Barn!”
“There’s a Fire In The Barn!” is a ploy of political gamesmanship, wherein you set fire to the barn, come out and yell, “There’s a fire in the barn!” and then you tell the person or people standing there how to put it out. The people, eager to put it out, are ever-so grateful that you warned them about the fire and showed them how to extinguish the threatening blaze.
The question of the arsonist’s identity, or even that the flames are a result of arson, is completely overlooked. In fact, the “rescued” people are now unwittingly bonded to the arsonist as friend and advocate.
“There’s a Fire In The Barn!” is an old trick, used in politics, debate, and commonly deployed as a way to control, manage, dominate or even exploit interpersonal relationships. It’s a neat trick, actually. Compelling. Seductive. Easy to miss. And, if you miss it, you get quickly swept away into its clutches.
Teenagers do this all the time. They bring an urgency/emergency wrapped in a tight time frame to the parents. “This (event I want to attend) is the chance of a lifetime! It’s a miracle, poured down from heaven that I should have this opportunity at all! And, if I go, (my life will be forever changed in some unrepeatable, positive way)! And, if I can’t go, (my life, as I know it, will be over)! AND … I NEED AN ANSWER RIGHT NOW!”
See? There’s a fire in the barn! If you say “yes,” the flames will be extinguished. Whew! That was close!
Back in my priesting days, the diocese I served began a search for a new bishop. A local priest was nominated. One Saturday morning, as I exited my car on my way to some ecclesiastical powwow, he jogged toward me. Jogged! Up ’til now, I thought this guy’s top speed was “amble.” Or “stroll.” But today he was energized. Enthused and animated. Urgent!
His arms moved as he spoke, painting the picture in a way that both alerted and implored: “This diocese has the chance now to show the Church that we are who we say we are!”
Translation: There’s a fire in the barn! If you support my campaign for bishop, it will extinguish the flames.
I think about all this as I’m sitting in a chair in the sky, some 38,000 feet above Utah. About an hour ago, I stepped to the TSA podium at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, sporting my driver’s license and my boarding pass. The TSA agent pointed to my boarding pass, where it said I was “prescreened.” I hadn’t noticed. I didn’t even know what it meant. The agent nonetheless pointed me to a different line where prescreened passengers went.
I went. I asked the agent at the prescreening podium how, exactly, had I qualified to be prescreened.
“You were probably selected at random,” he said. “We’re asking passengers to try it out. And, if they like it, which we are SURE you will, then maybe you’ll buy it.”
“It does cost some money,” he said, thoughtfully. “Eighty-five dollars for five years.”
“It’s so worth it,” groused the veteran frequent flier behind me.
So, I stepped into the prescreening line. Here’s what the new program has to offer:
I did NOT have to remove my shoes.
I did NOT have to remove my laptop computer and place it in a separate bin.
I did NOT have to remove my coat and scarf and place those items in a bin.
I did NOT have to remove my wallet and place it in a bin. Yes, the line moved faster. I got through security a full … oh, 1 minute and 7 seconds faster.
But I’m confused. If I give TSA $85, how does that make them certain my shoes aren’t stuffed with C4? And my computer isn’t even now alerting a terrorist cell across town into action? How do they suddenly trust the coat and scarf I’m wearing, just because I give them money? And, what about my wallet? What if I was to cram an entire tube of Arm &Hammer toothpaste into it? You people would never know! I could force the pilots to brush their teeth all the way to Denver!
The TSA screening lines are a royal pain in the buttocks! And, for $85, the government is willing to make my experience less painful by a handful of minutes.
There’s a fire in the barn! And, for $85, you can extinguish the flames.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at skalas@ reviewjournal.com.
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