(Originally written in March 2016, but never posted. But LOVE is still relevant today, and everyday.)
This morning, I, like the rest of the world, awoke to the news of the horrific terror event that occurred in Brussels, Belgium. As I watched the images cross the television screen, I thought, “When will this stop?” in collective exasperation with every other feeling person in this world. When will this stop? Moreover, how will this stop? Only one answer came: love.
I am not a psychologist, nor a parent, nor a politician. I hold no credentials for finding a resolution to terror than anyone else on my block. Yet, a scenario unfolded in my mind that may hold a key to preventing the recruitment of more members to terror groups.
It seems to me that all of this chaos began with one person. Let’s call him A. So, A feels disconnected from his peer group, family, and or community which begins the slow rolling boil of anger toward whomever A deems as the cause of his despair. A believes Z is the cause of his woes, and tells B all about it. B also feels a similar disconnection from society, so B is ripe for the new views of A and the explanation that Z is the cause of all B’s problems. A and B commiserate and form a strong, and seriously dangerous, outlook toward Z. They vow to do Z harm because they have spun the idea between the two of them, in their socially disconnected state, so long that it seems logical to them.
A and B do something harmful to Z, and in some skewed view of victory, they believe they have struck a blow for their cause because they had convinced themselves that Z was the source of all their troubles. A and B look for others who share their disconnected feeling in society, and recruit them with promises of finally feeling the connection that’s missing in their lives but can be found by connecting with A and B’s new-formed group. C and D join up, since they are socially disconnected and searching for something to make them feel included, and A and B promise them the feeling of family. C and D think, “Finally, someone wants to include me,” and now A and B have grown to include C and D.
The four of them continue the commiseration, breeding the misery among themselves to the point of all out fury against those they deem as the cause of their misery, namely Z and all of Z’s family. The groupthink theory takes root and quickly turns to a delusional view of the world, especially with respect to everything Z-related. The A-D group expands exponentially, and their rage is manifested in worse and worse retaliations against all things Z. Like a drug, when at first a little bit of rage and acting out was enough to satiate the ill feelings they held, soon the rage has to be accelerated in order to get that same feeling of restitution.
But what if A never found anyone to recruit? What if B (and C and D) did not feel disconnected from their community so they never sought connection from the worse dude on the block (namely, A), who seemed to the be only one talking to them? If B, C, and D were engaged with their families, friends, or communities, would they still seek connection from A. If B felt love from, say, Q, would B still seek to feed his loneliness from A or would he prefer to spend time with Q? And if Q is genuine in his connection with B — if Q’s words were authentic and feelings were honest — would B need to hang out with A?
If A never found anyone to recruit for acting on his rage, perhaps his actions would be small-scaled. Eventually, A’s intentions would die — either by his actual death, by his incarceration, or by giving up his solitary fight.
Love Could Indeed Be the Answer
So, what am I getting at here? Love. And I don’t mean romantic, lovey-dovey, kiss-you-all-over kind of love (that kind of love is great, but not the focus of this missive). I mean love in the most genuine sense to include compassion, care, concern, and connection. I mean making connections with people around us whenever we can. I mean asking, “How are you?” and actually listening to the answer. I mean holding the door for the person behind you, putting down the damn phone to have a real conversation with your dinner companion, writing a compliment on the restaurant receipt for a waitress who was overworked. I mean getting off of social media and actually being social. Say ‘hello’ to the aloof woman who sits at the corner bus stop. Buy a cup of coffee for the police officers who just walked into the cafe. Talk to the guy at the corner market you pass everyday.
I work in the financial services industry and part of our annual training includes discussions of what to do if someone enters the building to do harm. As a preventative measure, we are taught to acknowledge everyone who enters — make eye contact, greet them verbally, and welcome them. This tactic is not only to make our business the coolest place to be, but it has a psychological effect on the person. If that person entered the building with the intention of doing harm, an actual connection with a person when they enter may deter their actions. Yes, friendliness can thwart illegal activities.
Look, I don’t know how to tackle a group as big as the one that has taken credit for the terror attacks in Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino, and so many other places. I do know that divisiveness and hatred are not solving anything. I don’t know how improve security for the world, but I know that stirring the pot of anger will only keep everything stirred up. I don’t know if showing compassion to everyone you pass on the street will cure the world’s woes, but it might alleviate the troubles of one person. This may not be an all-encompassing answer to the problem, but wouldn’t it be great to try?
What if we worked on connecting with B so he didn’t feel so drawn to A? What if we soothed B’s bruised heart so he didn’t seek to fill that emptiness with the quick-fix that A promises? Then, once we have brought B into feeling whole again, we start the same work on A. It’s a big project so I’ll need a lot of help. If enough of us pitch together, we might just get there. You do know how to eat a watermelon the size of Texas, don’t you? One bite at a time.
Let’s get started. Let’s stand with love. Let’s BE love to the world. Spread that good stuff everywhere.
Later that night I held an atlas on my lap,
ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered,
“Where does it hurt?”
“Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”
And then I whispered,
“What can I do?”
“Love, love, love.”