The Boston Marathon bombings have once again brought the specter of terrorism front and center into our lives. Because these events provoke an often jumbled range of thoughts and emotions, it's helpful to take just a few minutes to get our inner selves in order and see if we can better understand the challenges and best responses to these barbarous acts.
At its core, terrorism is about fear and hate. We sometimes forget this because we've all heard, said, and written the word "terrorism" so many times now that we've lost touch with the original meaning. It's right there in the name, "terror." Terrorists attempt to inflict their agenda by instilling fear in those they couldn't persuade through loftier means. The one sure way, then, to defeat terrorists is to not give into the fear, either personally or societally.
The common denominator of all terrorists -- whether they be domestic or international, right- or left- wing, Islamic fundamentalists or religious extremists of some other ilk -- is hatred. They so very deeply hate something about our current society that they're willing to do anything, no matter how evil, to change it. If we respond similarly, whether in our own minds or through socio-political-governmental changes, chances are that we've given the terrorists exactly what they want. This isn't to say to laws, police, security, or even sometimes wars, drones, spying, and the like can't be useful tools, when appropriately used. But it is to say that these aren't deep and lasting solutions.
The antidote to fear and hate isn't more fear and hate. This not only exacerbates the situation and perpetuates the cycle of violence but it takes a severe toll on us mentally and spiritually. The more fearful and hateful our thoughts are, the more miserable we become and the more miserable society we create in our image.
The only authentic antidote to terror is love, compassion, inner peacefulness and even joy. This doesn't mean we don't recognize the solemnity of the carnage in the moment --the innocent victims deserve more compassion than anyone -- but it means we do not allow it to fundamentally warp us or overwhelm us with negativity.
We can do this through two simple steps. The first is that we must properly contextualize what's happened. I'm reading Dan Ariely's new book, The Truth About Dishonesty. He conducts an interesting experiment with 30,000 subjects (that's a lot, most studies draw their conclusions with far, far fewer participants). He was looking to see what percentage of us were dishonest people and to what degree. Out of 30,000 people, only 12 individuals were found to be massively dishonest. That's the tiniest fraction of the population; so far less than 1% of us (something like .0004), it's hard to even fathom how small a slice of humanity that is.
The point is that far more people are good than bad. I watched video footage of the Boston Marathon attacks. In videos posted on The Boston Globe, I counted a minimum of 200 people rushing towards the bombs and victims to help out. That included police and ordinary civilians. And it doesn't count all the people I couldn't see in the video or the thousands of EMT's, doctors, nurses, police officers, family members, and so forth in other locations who helped out at every step of the way. Even if this bombing involved lots of people working together, their numbers are dwarfed by the number of good people who responded. It's not even close.
Some people claim that evil is all around us. But I think not. Genuine evil is an infinitesimally small part of humanity.
While understanding the infrequency of evil is an important first step--and a comforting one--by itself, that's not enough. It's a useful but passive observation. We must proceed at least one step further: the best way to counteract fear and hate is to actively embody and spread goodness. Each one of us. We can't leave it to others, we must take up the mantle of goodness ourselves. When something like Boston Marathon bombing happens, it's an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to all that is good and holy in this world: to learn and practice compassion for others; to make an extra effort to feel peaceful and calm in our own minds; to actively spread joy to those whom we meet.
If for any reason, you don't feel like you have the tools or know-how to do this, then this is a great time to go out there and get them. There are many resources, books, people, and places that can offer guidance. Learn them, then practice them. Doing so not only helps us in our consciousness and daily lives, we become the outward antidote to terror of all kinds.