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Omaha Magazine

Otis Twelve: Worry

Oct 02, 2020 10:30AM ● By Otis Twelve
Otis Twelve column photo

Let me start by saying unambiguously that the “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” crowd is dangerously misguided. In fact, I worry about people who think that worrying is a waste of time, or worse, harmful to our emotional or physical health.

Worrying is a good thing. It keeps you alert and engaged in life, ready to face the fun challenges that life presents to all of us on a daily basis. Anyone who doesn’t worry is an accident of evolution, and unlikely to succeed in any meaningful way in this Darwinian culture that we thrive in.

Our furry ancestors were able to survive on the primeval veldt by worrying all the time—constant, all-absorbing, total, and perpetual worry. They would watch the tall grasses for stirrings unrelated to the breeze, “Where is that panther I saw yesterday?” Or, staring at a blackish fungus at the base of a tree, “If I eat this will I curl up and die like Dug did last week?” Or after a long day of hunter/gatherer hunting/gathering, “Can I sleep here, or am I too close to the 10-foot-tall fire ant colony?” 

Worry is a survival mechanism. It is, as Martha Stewart said, “a good thing.” (In fact, if Martha had worried a bit more about her stock trades she might have stayed out of prison.) Those who brood and fret about every tiny, little thing, thrive. It is simply true that in our modern society we have too few worries. The complacency of serenity and security is a threat to our very nature as a species born for anxiety.

We are too safe. The predators that used to chase us, and occasionally catch and sup upon our entrails, have been mostly eliminated. True, there are some small number of us who still run, but those few who do, do it as a means of “sport” or “fitness.” In other words, they are worried about either losing a game or gaining weight, so it’s another good example of worry as a motivation.

Since we no longer live in, or under, trees, lightning is no longer a worry, unless we do something stupid like play golf. And though food is still poisonous, or harmful, or unhealthy, or whatever, we rarely worry about it as a matter of constant concern.

“Don’t Worry. Be Happy.”

Beware, my fellow humans. Don’t be seduced by calm mindfulness. Don’t be calm. That way lays the deadly charm of complacency.

“Worry. Panic. Be disturbed. Don’t sleep.”

If you think about anything hard enough, in enough agonizing detail…if you dwell on everything that can go wrong with every single step we take…if you lose the ability to truly rest, relax, or to even breathe without trembling…then you are being fully human. You are living our truest evolutionary destiny.

So, how do you reach this anti-Zen mindset that is the gateway to true knowledge? There is no guru who will lead you there. There is no guidebook. If you wish to truly be one with the absolute truth of perpetual worry, fulfilling fretfulness, unease, and mental disturbance, there is only one path you need to take.


Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 6-10 a.m. Visit for more information.

This article was printed in the October 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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