Four Personal Commitments to Combat Terrorism
Another horrific event – this time in Paris last night – rocked my nervous system.
I heard about it just as I was coming off an airplane from a business trip to Europe, and my gut instinct was outrage and a profound sense of sadness. It was quickly followed by anger. How can someone commit such a horrific act?
The random shooting of the latest batch of innocents happened in a place where people come to hear music. It hit home for me. It is my husband and son, who right now are on the stage in Europe at such events.
If people seeking to eradicate joy, music, and feelings of connection to self and others gain momentum, what musicians do, will die. Fear will keep bands and audiences at home behind closed doors.
Each time I send my youngest son to high school here in America, I wonder if there will be a school shooting.
From now on, each time I send my husband, his band, and our oldest son off to tour, I will forever wonder if there will be some deranged human being, who will shoot randomly at them and their beloved audience.
Each time I enter a Federal building, I have the Oklahoma bombing on my mind. Each time, I look at the New York skyline; I see in my mind’s eye the smoke billowing from the towers, while people jump to escape their last moments in living hell.
Walter and Jon are in Norway right now doing two shows that are billed as “A Celebration of Life.” There was a horrific and deadly shooting and bombing by a right-wing extremist in Norway a few years ago. And a rush of fear goes through my veins.
Our collective innocence is lost.
In so many ways, it seems we are not safe anywhere. When I hear of the latest horrific and senseless event, I feel the urge to do a quick headcount among my loved ones. In my mind, I place them geographically to make sure that they are not close to the latest bloodbath.
And I wonder when one of our loved ones might be next. I feel the temptation to join the multiple choruses online and in conversations that spew outrage. I want to vent my frustration and point fingers – find blame, find ways to prevent such madness.
I want to try to re-capture a sense of safety.
It is understandable. But it eludes me no matter what I try.
Whether the extremists that commit such crimes are motivated by religion or, as was the case in Norway and Oklahoma, by politics; it is extremists that commit terror. In the case of school shootings, it can simply be a desire for the terrorist to be seen as important.
Common for all acts of terror is one thing:
The perpetrators seek attention to further a personal sense of grandeur, or to further a cause or belief they embrace: be it a vendetta on the government or on those who believe in a different God.
But my urge to partake in the outrage and the blame-fest around why it happened, actually will give the terrorists exactly what they want:
When we give them extreme attention by our online response of blame-throwing and finger-pointing, we play right into their twisted playbook, because as a result we fear other people a bit more all the time.
By our actions, we multiply the wave of terror. Where terrorists created the original virtual earthquake of destruction, we multiply it manifold by creating a tsunami of outrage and anger that washes over all of us. We view videos of the terror, and crouch in front of our screens, while venting our sense of horror and blame online.
In our finger-pointing, we find others who we deem to be guilty by association.
It seems to give us some measure of comfort. Anger and outrage are outlets for the adrenalized stress response that is created inside of us when we are afraid. Blaming others is our way to try to prevent it from happening again. We feel that we can create an illusion of safety by seeking to remove those who are “sort of like those who did it.”
But it is that anger that makes us blame people who were not directly involved that precisely is what terrorists want us to do.
When we want to lash out by eradicating other ways of thinking – or at least removing it from being among us – we all lose our way.
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus, and Buddha would all remind us that, while our reactivity is natural, it doesn’t work to solve the problem. It rather perpetuates the violence and the fearfulness. It separates us further. It drives wedges between human beings: Precisely the agenda of the terrorists: Moving more of us towards rampant mutual extremism.
It is obviously important that those who perpetrate, plot, and execute horrific acts of violence are removed from the public sphere forever. I trust police to do that. But what can I do?
I have done some soul-searching about this. And here is my personal plan to combat terrorism:
1. I can acknowledge that acts of terror terrify me. It makes me feel vulnerable, afraid, and unsafe. It is an uncomfortable truth to come to terms with. I feel powerless. But as uncomfortable as that realization is, it is step one for me.
2. Secondly, I can reach out in love and compassion to all who are indirectly affected, because we all lose a bit more of our innocence with each passing violent outburst. And this posting of mine is a desire to bond with you in our shared sadness and grief. We are all truly Parisians today. Just like they were all New Yorkers after 9/11.
3. Thirdly, I commit to shut up! There is nothing gained by me resorting to verbal violence or blame in my responses. When extreme right-wing nuts killed hundreds of people in Oklahoma and Norway, it would make no sense to blame all Republicans – or all right-wing people – for the mindset of the attacker. Here it makes no sense to blame religion or entire population groups for the acts of extremists either.
The terrible truth is that order has broken down, disaster has struck, and people are dead. And no matter how much I might wish to remove those who look, or think about things, differently than I do, I cannot un-do what was done. I couldn’t in Norway in 2011, in Oklahoma, in New York, at Sandy Hook, or in Paris.
The more I seek to retreat behind my own picket fence of explanations, whether privately, politically, or in the name of God, I only further the sense of separation and fear around me.
And that is exactly what extremists on all sides want.
They want a world in which the battle lines are drawn. They want holy war. They want to destroy all commonality between human beings whether this camaraderie is represented in music, in government programs, in religious freedom, or in freedom of the press.
We are vulnerable to terrorism. We are fearful when acts of random, senseless, and unpredictable violence happen. And it is natural to be so. But to retreat to verbal violence and finger-pointing fuels the fire.
By comparison: Every day in the United States, 30 people die from drunk-driving accidents. This is another totally senseless act of violence.Our loved ones are statistically much more likely to die from such an accident. Each day in the United States, almost 90 people die in traffic accidents, and still we climb into our cars each day without a second thought.
And here comes the fourth -and crucial point to my personal plan:
4. I will counter the terrorist agenda of injecting fear into my heart by continuing my life defiantly – by not letting them win by me changing who I am, or how I think. I will not let them succeed in making me hateful and distrusting of others for no good reason.
It goes without say that I obviously want to request our politicians insist on adequately funding police and other detective work that to some degree can prevent future events. And each of us can, and in my opinion should, embrace a personal astute sense of vigilance – to report truly suspicious activities whether they are in schools, in our neighborhoods, or when drunks get in cars.
But there is no way to restore our innocence.
There is, on the other hand, a way for each of us to walk boldly and with determination through our common existence with an acceptance that bad things happen – also to innocent people. But that realization should not make us stay at home, or blame others who had nothing to do with it.
I vow to stop my part in the continuation of the waves of terror:
The terror tsunami stops here. I will not create further hate. I sit here feeling immense sadness for the victims. And I honor the memory of each person suffering a senseless death, whether it is by domestic violence, traffic death, drunk-driving, terrorism, hunger, or disease, by a renewed commitment to do onto others as I want them to do onto me.