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Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Headshot

Osama Bin Laden Dead: A Mindful Response

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OSAMA BIN LADEN
AP

In his or her wisdom, one unknown person once said:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. But what does that mean exactly? Vindication? A cause for celebration? Justice served? Revenge?

When I heard the news, I was surprised. The thought that came into my head was, "Wow, I can't believe it really happened." Then I clicked on a video showing the crowds of lively people screaming and jumping around in jubilation over the death of a man, screaming, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" as though we had just won the World Cup. I had this gut feeling that the reaction seemed sort of strange. This wasn't like we had just kicked in the winning goal; we had just killed somebody, and it seemed like I was watching some kind of dark comedy. I thought, "What is the difference between what I am seeing on the video and a crowd standing by and cheering while some enemy is getting stoned to death in front of us?"

You see, my reaction wasn't to Osama Bin Laden dying. He was a man who caused so many people much lifelong pain, and I'm glad we don't have to worry about him anymore. (That doesn't mean we don't have to worry about others who want to cause us harm.) But something just seemed off, as if we weren't processing our emotions around this properly. It was a good moment for America, yes, but was it a moment for cheering, laughing and jubilation?

I decided to sleep on it.

When I woke up this morning, I saw a post from Susan Piver, who seemed to have had the same reaction as me. She said something that made a lot of sense:

Look at your own reaction this morning.



Was there even a hint of vengefulness or gladness at Osama bin Laden's death? If so, that is a real problem. Whatever suffering he may have experienced cannot reverse even one moment of the suffering he caused. If you believe his death is a form of compensation, you are deluded.



There has been an outpouring of misdirected jubilation, as if a contest had been won. Nothing has been won. Unlike winning a sporting event, this doesn't mean that our team has triumphed. Far from it. There is only one team, and it is us.

How long will it take -- or maybe a better question is what will it take -- for us to recognize that we are all connected to one another? Causing pain to another group of people is a strange place to derive happiness from. It seems to be a false happiness; at the root it's really anger or fear.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a wonderful saying: "Peace in ourselves, peace in the world."

This isn't a Pollyanna notion that we should all just hold hands and pretend that there's no war, pain or trauma; this is a very real and practical path toward creating a better world. We need to learn how to take a good look at the wars we have raging inside each and every one of us in response to our own personal traumas in life -- whether that's the death of a loved one, harm inflicted on us, or some form of emotional trauma -- and learn ways to create peace within ourselves. It's a very simple path, but it's not at all easy. In my opinion, that's why we default to being reactive and causing more war.

So goodbye, Osama Bin Laden. May the families and friends who have suffered at your hands feel more at peace without you around. And may you be at peace with the wars that raged within you to the point that you held the misguided delusion that killing thousands of people was somehow a path in the right direction.

And may we all be free from our misguided reactions to the wars within and help guide all people into a direction of greater empathy, compassion and peace within ourselves and the world.

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