I wrote this article only five days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers. This contemporary account of that unforgettable day is as relevant and powerful now as it was 5 years ago.
Five days ago, a coordinated attack took the lives of thousands of people in this country. And now we all have a choice to make: How shall we respond to this event?
No matter how terrible the behavior of others, they cannot take from us the ability to choose our response. We do not have to be angry and hateful in return. I saw an interview with the wife of one man who was a passenger on one of the suicide planes. Although he was murdered by men who took no thought for his life, this woman expressed no anger, no desire for revenge. Instead, she spoke of love for her husband and gratitude for the time they had together.
Many people have prayed and expressed their concern—silently, vocally, and through acts of service—for the families of those who are missing, who have died, and who have been injured. The love of these people is infectious, binding them not only to the families of those affected by the tragedy but to all those around them.
On the other hand, I have seen and heard so many who have spoken of revenge. They angrily thirst to see more blood spilled. They shake their fists at those who have done these unspeakable things. Some of them even commit hateful acts against Muslims who have hurt no one.
And what can come of this anger? Certainly, something needs to be done to stop men who would commit an act like this. They may even need to be killed to prevent them from repeating their behavior and to deter others who would mimic them. But if we punish them in anger, we only fill the world with more hate, and in so doing, I suggest that we cause just as much damage as those planes did five days ago. We seem to be focused on prolonging our lives, rather than filling our lives with happiness. How can we be happy when we are angry and hateful? What are we teaching our children when we scream for the blood of our enemies?
I have heard the word “outrage” a lot in the past few days. We’re getting quite an emotional charge from being angry at these men—sometimes justifying ourselves by waving a flag as we do it—but our hypocrisy is profound. These terrorists hastened the deaths of several thousand people, but they didn’t do anything so different from what we ourselves do every day. As of this moment, 4900 people are missing in New York City because of the violence perpetrated there. But 450,000 people die each year in this country as a result of smoking tobacco. That means that every FOUR DAYS we kill as many people as are now missing in New York. Every three months, we kill that many people by driving drunk in this country.
Where is the outrage at OURSELVES—our legislators, lobbyists, the tobacco industry, beer advertisers, media, and even our own family members—for failing to do what it takes to bring an end to the deaths we cause as a result of our own irresponsible behavior? Where are the headlines and the television reports? We love the frenzy of blaming other people, anything to be distracted from what really needs to be done.
I suggest that in this tragedy we reveal a lust for anger and revenge that will not help anyone. When we have tasted the blood of the enemy, we will not be a happier people. We do need to address these men who have shown no regard for human life, but we need to do it as we would solve any other problem. We don’t need to do it with fire in our eyes and hate in our hearts. It’s just something that has to be done. These men have already brought enough anger into the world? What will be gained if we add to it?
We grieve for those who have died, and well we should. But it’s not death that causes the real unhappiness in our lives. People die every day, and life goes on. We have known from the moment we were born that we would die. It’s anger that causes the unhappiness in our lives. It’s anger that causes more than half of the marriages in this country to end in divorce. It’s the anger of parents that leads children to feel unloved and fill the emptiness in their lives with alcohol, drugs, sex, and violence. It’s anger that destroys the relationships of adults and leads them to turn to the same things as their children. It’s anger that fills our jails to overflowing.
We don’t need more anger. We need to learn to love each other. Anger is quick, cheap, and easy. After we have found and eliminated the criminals who killed these people in New York and Washington, let us turn to the more difficult task of loving each other. We keep avoiding that job—and we as a nation, as families, as individuals, can no longer afford to do that. Let us learn to eliminate hate, racism, child abuse, divorce, tobacco, alcoholism, drug abuse, and the other problems that are hurting us far more than the acts of a few terrorists.
It was the goal of those angry men to disrupt our society. If we respond in fear and anger to what they have done, they will have succeeded brilliantly. We can do much better. We must.
Learn much more about anger and how to literally ELIMINATE its power over your life by going to my website here.
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