Six Ways You and I Can Fight Terror Every Day
Tuesday afternoon, my father-in-law turned on the news like he always does. The big screen was filled with scenes of the most recent mass murder incident in San Bernardino, CA. The volume was pumped up to accommodate my father-in-law’s hearing loss. Still, he got up to walk closer to the TV so he could make sure that what he was seeing and hearing were true. Yes. Another senseless mass murder. The TV droned on endlessly with conjectures about motive and updates about victims and suspects. Over and over and over. I found my heart breaking…again. How can we fight terror and senseless killing?
It is easy to begin to feel helpless and hopeless. These news stories are becoming more and more common: Paris, Sandy Hook, 9-11, Columbine. Even worse are the stories that are not over-reported because they are so commonplace. Genocide in Africa. Suicide bombings in the Middle East. It is easy to let fear start to creep in and take over. I can feel it tightening a knot in my stomach as I type. If I opened up my Facebook page right now, there would be any number of postings and videos discussing San Bernardino, evoking rage, calling for this intervention or that. I don’t know about you, but I am not a soldier going out to fight or a politician calling the shots or a member of the Peace Corps. I am just a regular person who goes to work, tries my best to be a good mom, and enjoys how the sunlight filters through leaves on a brisk morning like today. How do I fight these faceless murderers and protect my children from them? And besides, if terrorism’s main goal is to strike fear into our hearts—to overwhelm us into submission–how do we fight against fear?
For me, it comes down to building resilience into my life and advocating for resilience in my community. Resilience is what allows us to bounce back from terrible events and even to grow and learn from them. “Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe” (What is Resilience? (n.d.) in PBS: This Emotional Life. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/resilience/what-resilience). Terrorism and the kind of anger that provokes a mass murder are difficult to prevent. Just ask our military and police who have been studying this and working around the clock to insulate us and protect us from these types of attacks. Building resilience gives us civilians another front in which to fight.
So, how do we build resilience? The first thing to do is to turn off the news. Listening to the stories of pain and suffering both near and far only make your fear and anger worse. Get the headlines and skip the story or at least skip the endless commentary and updates that occur for days and weeks afterwards. Even the political bickering about how to handle the situation only exacerbates feelings of helplessness.
Instead, focus your mind on gratitude. Go outside and notice the morning sunshine on your face. Really hug your children before sending them off to school. Notice how your body relaxes and your attitude shifts to hopefulness and energy.
Next, invest in your relationships. Mend bridges that need mending. Practice forgiveness and let go of petty differences. Be compassionate with the people around you. Spend quality time. Have fun and enjoy your family.
Practice self-discipline. One I have been working on lately is resisting my impulse to check my phone whenever I happen to be still. Instead I put it down, look around me, take a moment to check in with my body, my mood, my thought-content. I have been noticing how impatient I have become because my phone allows me to never be bored. Which really means that I am never curious because when I put down my phone and look up—that’s when I observe things around me…like how my son is able to do the monkey bars forwards and backwards now. When did that happen? So even though it is easier to go straight to my phone, I resist the urge and try to let myself be curious about the world around me. Self-discipline leads to all kinds of virtues and builds strength that we can use when times get tough. But you cannot build it during those times. It has to already be there.
Practice your faith. Whatever your faith is, practice it. Don’t worry about how others are practicing theirs. There is so much anger and confusion about Islam right now in my own family and friends. But we cannot force other people to believe things. They are coming from a perspective that is shaped by their own experiences and influences. However, we can sort through our own beliefs and work to put them into practice. Maybe we believe in the power of connection, so we decide to visit a nursing home. Maybe we believe that all things happen for a reason, and so we look for that reason when we get a flat tire or are struggling with a family member. If you build a strong beacon of hope and faith during times of normalcy, it will shine even brighter during times of darkness.
Find your meaning. If your life feels empty and meaningless, take a moment to step back and see if you are filling your time with activities that are empty and meaningless. How much time are you watching TV? Do you have time to play and rest and enjoy the simple things in life? If you want to add meaning to your life, pick one thing that feels purposeful (it doesn’t have to be big) and do it this week. See how your life starts to change when you slowly reshape how you invest your time and energy.
If we all practice resilience in our day-to-day lives, we build a community of resilience. We learn to bounce back from tragedies rather than being overwhelmed by them. We develop the tools to fight fear and anger and bigotry. We refuse to let terrorism overwhelm us and, in this way, we win the fight even when we cannot prevent it. Who’s with me?