Last week’s Time magazine ran a story about fear. I’m no stranger to this emotion, so long ago I decided to engage it creatively rather than run away. The article, “Monsters Inc., Inside the weird word of professional haunting,” by Lily Rothman, contains the laments of those who operate seasonal haunted houses. People are just getting too hard to scare. Some blame violence in the media and computer games, a large-scale desensitization to the suffering people might cause to others. CGI has made the most hellish nightmare realistic in the theater or on the small screen. If you can imagine it, it can be brought to life. Yesterday was Halloween, the day we’re allowed to be afraid. Of course, those who fear the influence of negative emotions on children have cute-ified the frights: bulbous air-filled creatures lit up from within billow harmlessly in front lawns, monsters of various sorts sport silly grins, and humor is liberally sprinkled in with the horror. One haunted house owner wanted patrons to walk through naked, so they could feel vulnerable. Today most people will wake up to just another day of work, while others will roll out of bed ready for All Saints’ Day and a rousing chorus of Vaughn Williams. Some of us will still be scared.
Thrice I’ve had to face the highly secretive severance agreement offered by employers who know that people over forty have a difficult time rebuilding a career. I know that in this I’m not alone. If it hasn’t happened to you, here’s how it goes: you show up to work one day and begin doing whatever it is someone pays you to do. Depending on the size of the organization, either Human Resources or some level of supervisor will innocently invite you to the office. They will have solemn smiles on their faces. The door will be closed. You will be told that, for whatever reason they wish to give, your services are no longer required. In return for your silence you’ll be offered some kind of adult care package. You’ll leave shattered and stunned and willing to sign anything slipped under your nose.
The secrecy’s the thing. I’ve never revealed to anyone, under pain of prosecution, what any of those agreements said. What I have noticed, however, is the fear. The lawyer-instilled fear of bad press. Organizations want to be thought of as caring and concerned. They do not want any clandestine information released. Truth seems to be the greatest engine of fear in the corporate world. A few years back, before the Bush-whacking of the economy, I read about optimistic companies practicing “naked business.” Revealing vulnerability. I immediately admired the idea. Like walking through a haunted house in the nude, businesses could demonstrate that they have nothing to hide. But there’s real fear here. Like a ghost, truth can pass through walls. Like Godzilla, truth is indestructible. Like the invisible man, naked truth just can’t be seen.