Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The dynamics of terror

An act of terror is inflicted upon all of humanity, regardless of whether we are direct or indirect victims. Some victims don't live to tell what they went through; others carry the trauma throughout their lives; the rest, who are the vast majority of us, become overwhelmed by fear. Terrorism is powerful because we let it be.

It would be pointless to try to comfort survivors or the relatives of fatal victims of a terrorist attack by saying that we all feel the same, that this pain and suffering has equally fallen upon us. It simply hasn't.

In truth, terrorism does not have the purpose to cause the most damage possible. It has only one objective, which is to inflict as much fear to as many people for as long as possible. In that sense, millions and millions of people are victims for the rest of their lives.

Only in 2015, there have been almost 10,000 gun murders in the United States. It is more than three times the number of deaths by terrorism on U.S. soil since September 11th. This other kind of random violence also inflicts fear among the entire population and even beyond their borders.

The origin of fear is fairly simple: we are exposed to certain information about something undesirable that has happened to someone else, and we project it as something that is likely to happen to us in our future. As fear increases, so does our level of certainty about this sinister occurrence.

One of the negative by-products of globalization has been religious terrorism. Some claim that one could go as far back as 500 years, when in the name of a Christian god millions of people were "baptized to death" during days of European kings in their overseas colonial adventures. The last 20 years, the kind of terrorism we have seen, the one that is broadcast day and night on TV and social media, has made us all so very fearful. We have been terrorized, especially in Western cultures, where several generations of us had never been exposed to such levels of despicable violence close to us. And the more terrorized we become, the more we want to consume that featured terror, even on a mobile device near you.

Watching the news, especially videos, about terrorist attacks, reinforces the belief that something as horrible as that could and will happen to us. It triggers a permanent sensation of fear and terror. It ends up breaking us, surrendering to the slavery that comes not when a man subdues another, but when a person gives up on her own liberties.

Fear is an attitude. We can choose it or we can choose any other attitude. As simple as that. We could choose to be brave, instead. Or compassionate. Or proactive, empathic, you name it. Doing so, we would perceive different moods and other feelings, not only within ourselves but also towards others. Our impact in society would be different. Our leadership would be constructive. Our character would shine out of virtue.

Fear paralyzes. It weakens us. It steals our sense of optimism, our hope for a more prosperous future, our willingness to be good samaritans, exemplary citizens, better persons altogether.

We all hurt with terror. But if we survived, and more so if we have not even been witnesses of such unspeakable acts of horror, we must dust ourselves, wipe our tears and get back on our feet. This world needs more good people to do the right thing: to love, to care for those in need, to guide, to lead. As Edmund Burke reminds us, "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good [people] to do nothing."

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