Reflecting upon the past 48 hours, I am surprised at my initial reaction. Prior to my involvement with the Ashland Center for Nonviolence (ACN), I am sure I would have been among those cheering on the USA with the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death; however, here I sit… a mere 9 months into my position as the Assistant Director of the ACN and I am nowhere near elation with the recent news of Osama’s demise.
I have learned a great deal in my short tenure here and this much I know to be true… violence breeds more violence. It pained me to see the leader of our free world make the statement that ‘justice has been done’ when speaking about Bin Laden’s death. I, for one, whole-heartedly disagree, Mr. President. ‘Vengeance’ is what was served and I fear that this act of violence will most assuredly bring about more. When will ‘it’ end?
There is no doubt that September 11, 2001 was a dreadful day for America. We all remember where we were when these attacks on our fellow Americans took place. Hopes and dreams died that day, but others came alive. There was the overwhelming feeling of unity and how we, as Americans, should rise up and be strong… we would overcome this tragedy… together. But what does that mean to us as a community? Does it mean we are going to ‘beat up’ anyone that causes us pain? In the words of country superstar Toby Keith, does this mean that ‘we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way’? Forgive me, but I do not understand this mentality.
Mindful of my immediate reaction, the powerful famous quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is what comes to mind: "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."
Here we stand again, on high alert for terrorist attacks and retaliation… so I ask you, At what point will we stop and realize what this violence is doing to us… what it’s doing to our children?
I had no desire to be the ‘one’ to address this act of violence, but my son’s comments on the ‘morning after’ resonated something deep within me. Hearing your first born say “That’s so cool they shot him in the head and dropped him in the sea”, you begin to put things in perspective. Realizing this was a ‘teachable moment’ for me, I quickly responded with “There is nothing ‘cool’ about what has happened here… not in 2001 and certainly not in 2011”. He looked at me with curious eyes and I decided it was finally time to discuss this life-altering tragedy with my 8-year old son in full detail.
It was difficult conjuring up old feelings from that day in 2001. As I spoke, he must have heard the quivering in my voice because he looked worried and said, “Mom, are you okay?!” I assured him that I was fine, but what I was about to tell him may very well change how he views the world. Puzzled, he said, “I don’t think that will happen, unless it is something really awful”. “It is really awful, and I want you to understand why things are happening so you can make your own decision about how to ‘feel’”, I said.
As I told him about the threats, the attacks, the lives lost; he immediately put it into a context that he, unfortunately, understands all too well - bullying. At first, I didn’t see the connection, but then again, it was pretty clear how he would come up with it. After all, isn’t ‘bullying’ what most of this is all about? The extreme tactics of bullying that have occurred for the past decade both by and of Americans is simply breeding more threats of violence. Is this how we want our children to think this is how the world works? Not me.
It is my hope that our conversation gave him some perspective. And my ultimate desire would be that my son understands how the media tends to glorify this type of ‘bullying’, all while ignoring the fact that ‘bullying is wrong and it can go both ways… ultimately ending in tragedy for everyone’.