No one could have imagined an explosive device going off at the end of a marathon nearly two weeks ago in Boston. The images of smoke and fire, the sounds of people screaming, and the week long manhunt to find the persons responsible for the atrocity kept us riveted to the news media in anxious anticipation for justice. Anger, feelings of loss, and helplessness blanketed our society last week when we all wondered, "How can this happen?"
It made me recall all the emotions I had of 9-11. Someone needed to pay.
Who would want to cause such mayhem in a place where athletes trained to represent their own dedication, or the causes they ran for in the Boston Marathon? The people running the marathon had no play in any global war, discrimination, or offense. The target of the brutality was simple: Innocence.
As the questions mounted, and many remain, I was caught off guard by the amount of fear swelling up in our culture. I interviewed parents who held their own kids closer. I talked with teenagers who were caught up in the cultural frenzy talking about who, what, when, and why something like Boston could ever happen again. I even heard many start to blame Islam as the cauldron where ideologies of violence were the norm, rather than the exception to the rule.
Fear works on our psyche in strange ways, and I think it's important we all have the ability to step back and think about what's going on in order to respond well.
1. Islamic leaders need to help provide answers, but we shouldn't focus solely on members of faith
I think it important as the backlash of cause and effect begin pointing toward people of religious ideology, we need to remember faith in God isn't responsible for these atrocities. In fact, there are nearly 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, and the terror acts of 9-11 and Boston account for only a couple of dozen. The radical religious zealots make up such a small percentage, it doesn't merit a national conversation to ban all Muslims, but it does require us to investigate the circumstances that cause young impressionable faith believers to feel the right to cause harm. I don't say this as an over-reaction as I've read recently some conversations concerning immigration reform to include religious discrepancies. We are a country with a foundation of freedom of religion, we shouldn't discard someone based on faith.
I have dear Muslim friends who are angered at the notion of these extremists. They are God fearing people who have submitted their lives to knowing God and living in harmony with others. When any of the terror acts happen they cry with outrage in solidarity with the innocent. We need more of them to step in the public square and help us understand why.
2. Terror acts are intended to cause reaction
The purpose of terror is to cause major reactions of fear. The quick reaction to find the perpetrators was necessary in Boston, but if we stop for a moment, we can take a short look at what these two radical men did. They shut down the entire city of Boston, caused every major news outlet to camp out in Boston, and forced the American government to go on an investigation spanning the globe.
I too am saddened by the loss of life and the injury ensued by the bombing, but when two people can cause such outright fear over an entire country, THEY WIN. The purpose of the bombing was certainly injury, but the following reaction is an important story. How many others are watching our actions, waiting in the wings, knowing they too can have a massive impact on society, economy, and culture? We must be careful not to play into the story of these radicals less we become consumed by their motive.
3. We can't stop everything bad from happening.
It seems like an easy idea, but some of us are still trying to prevent evil from happening in the world. I believe we can curb the amount of evil by being vigilant to take care of negligent safety concerns, but ultimately evil is here on the planet. Whether you are religious or not, we have to answer the bigger question, WHY?
Maybe it's because of a chemical imbalance.
Maybe it's because of environmental pressures.
Maybe it's because some people are just EVIL.
We can't eliminate evil from our society, but we can try to capture the essence of good, and control our response to evil. This is where larger conversations of faith, philosophy, and reason come into play. What is evil? And how should we react?
4. We need to think about our culture of togetherness
One statement I read early in the Boston process was, "I don't have an American friend." One of the brothers lived here in America for 10 years and vocalized the void of friendship. Now, some will say, "It's not that hard if you only try." But I would propose, our culture is obsessed with simplifying relationships enough to create ultimate isolation.
Think about it...
Facebook has redefined friendship to a click and a like. Twitter, on it's own, is concerned with how many people are following or paying attention to you.
YouTube channels give people places on the web to create their own channels.
Even in the most connected generation ever living on planet earth, we are becoming more and more isolated as individuals.
What happens to the identity of a person when a multitude of people aren't following or liking or paying attention to them? I've seen it in teenagers. It adds to the natural isolation we already feel. Most people are walking through the world wondering who is actually 'with them.' There's a human-ness about us that longs for intimate connection. Could it be, our own addiction to technology is creating a space where isolationists can be grown and be cultured?
What if, instead of spending millions on extra security measures we spent time working with people on learning who their neighbors are?
What if we worked on marketing the very essence of what it means to be human, rather than the latest tool where you can hide from everyone else?
What if we started a well thought out campaign to teach a generation what it meant to celebrate together, and mourn together with the same passion and veracity?
What if we actually encouraged schools, work environments, and social activities VOID of cellphones?
Fear raises its head when we don't know what to expect, or who we can trust. Fear causes us to act irrationally, knee jerking at whatever idea seems plausible at the time. Fear is the core outcome terrorism seeks to illicit in all society.
If we can just take a step back and learn to assess the real problems we have here in society, we may be able to more effectively return to a culture who looks out for one another in times we feel most FEAR. We can actually learn basic principles to lock arms together as the images we see at Fenway Park when "Sweet Caroline" begins to play.
That's what Boston taught me about Fear.
Why wait for tragedy to strike? Let's put aside the things in life that don't matter, and focus on what it means to live on this planet together. Maybe a simple nod, a smile, or a polite hello will be the connection someone needs today to begin feeling less alone.
Follow Andy Braner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/braner