Personally Dealing with Terrorism

A week ago I dined with philosophers for a discussion centered around the certainty of change, and the sure necessity of our having the flexibility to move with change. While our conversation focused primarily on our own experiences, it eventually zeroed in on the almost incomprehensible violence in Paris the night before. What about that kind of change? Does philosophy have anything to offer in the face of terrorism? And it’s not just the deaths of concertgoers and café diners in Paris. It’s the tolls in Nigeria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel—and it’s the death knell ringing for mass murders in our own movie theater, federal office building, and schools. These events magnify the realization of just how little each of us can control. And along with this sobering understanding comes the empowering challenge that our quite real control lies in how we respond. How we answer what the world delivers belongs to us—as responsibility and opportunity.

On the drive home from the gathering this past Saturday, I thought of the statement from ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus: “Everything has two handles, one by which you can carry it, the other by which you cannot” (Enchiridion). How to carry the reality of terrorist acts in the past and their likelihood in the future? We can only carry this burden within the circumstances of our personal lives. Each of us left the philosopher’s lunch to return to lives which hadn’t experienced terrorism directly, our homes geographically far from Paris and now Mali.

I can answer only for myself. Here’s how I can best carry terrorism: Live a robust life. Take philosophy to children and retirement communities. Listen, attentively, to everyone—regardless. Rev up my courtesy, everywhere. Give a tennis lesson. Speak up against hysteria and prejudice. Play music. Dismiss fear. Laugh. Remember everyone who made my good life possible, especially recalling so many lives lost to madness. Give, automatically, the benefit of the doubt, unless and until I’m proven wrong. I must get out of and go out of my way. And keep at it each day, renewed in the effort.

My choice, far as I know, isn’t a naïve retreat from the world as it is. I’ll stay informed, yes, but  even with knowledge, try hard to stay in the positive light of a beautiful world. I won’t overindulge in the news spectacle that surrounds terrorist strikes. Something unsettling comes over me when I see bikers at the gym watching the news coverage, somehow comfortably distanced, talking with neighboring bikers about football or Thanksgiving dinner. I'll work on perspective and compassion. Balance is key.

After drafting this blog, a stunning gift came my way, also the way of now some 40 million viewers, and counting. Antoine Leiris’s wife, mother of their infant child, was murdered at the Bataclan. His handles for carrying grief are love, defiance, and hope. Please read his letter to terrorists he refuses to dignify either by name or with anger:

You and I must find our own handles. The handle used by Antoine Leiris or the terrorists? I’m lining up with Antoine. His weapons win.

A new day. Peace.
A new day. Peace.