My children awoke a little later than normal, on account of a late soccer party last night, and came downstairs at about 6:40 AM. My “Morning of Bliss” began at about 5:30 (4:30 on weekdays), a daily ritual that consists of coffee, reading for news, and reading for pleasure. The soundtrack this morning was Mark O’Connor, Bela Fleck, and beautiful, acoustic, folk/jazz fusion. I listened to 2 live versions of Fleck’s “Big Country,” a lush instrumental governed by one melody and variations on the theme in the form of an instrumental conversation. By my standards, this has been a great start to the day.
. . .
We are safe in our modest suburban home: content, warm, and secure. 4, 482 miles away as the crow flies, and for the second time in a calendar year, Parisians are discontented, cold with terror, and vulnerable. Yesterday, the city awoke to its normal fall rhythms, the slivers of partly sunny morning light reflecting off the Seine, reminding the day of the city’s beauty, its history, and vitality. Yesterday, I awoke to my routine, added some writing and tending to a child who, according to daycare, was ill; I didn’t learn of the day’s events until last night. Like many around the globe, I’ve been abnormally somber, suffering in solidarity with those who suffer palpably. These acts, which some regard as our new reality, don’t just inject anxiety into the immediate victims. I wonder why not Birmingham, and I imagine a rationale for targeting a peripheral location.
This is the purpose of terror. Taking down powerful nations may be implausible, but cleaving their social foundations through unpredictable and menacing means is not. For a time, Parisians will be looking over their shoulders. They’ll be looking suspiciously at each other. Many will succumb to stereotypes. They’ll await in earnest the next assault from some craven madman who won’t face the irrevocable damage he’s inflicted.
On the day that I published my post on the problems that diversity poses, Paris was rocked by a series of seemingly synchronized attacks that killed, by most credible estimates, about 120 and left hundreds more injured. 120 people will never experience a sublime morning ever again; countless others will relive this trauma all their remaining days. Paris, an intellectual center of the enlightenment, propagator of the noble motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” was dealt a horribly ignoble blow. What happens next? Alliances will be affirmed, strategic retaliatory actions taken, and someone in the West will claim to have eradicated some cell that tangentially led to the Paris attacks. We’ll be placated for a time, until the next disenfranchised, damaged, manipulated person is convinced to carry out terror on behalf of some convoluted virtue from the mind of some convoluted megalomaniac. The cycle will repeat, and the new reality will grow more entrenched.
We are left in a defensive posture, reacting to an aggressor and vehemently defining ourselves as what he is not. But this perpetuates an Us vs. Them dichotomy, a narrative that fosters hate in the first place. In the face of hatred, decent people the world over should aggressively celebrate our common humanity. This morning, on The Huffington Post, Khwaja Khusro Tariq urged that we should “…start asking ourselves and others what we stand for and stop reminding each other what we are against.” While this may have no strategic angle to satisfy pragmatists, it is the only affirmative counterpunch to an ideology of division.
I can’t speak to the efficacy of military actions in the Middle East, against ISIS or Al Qaeda, or Boko Haram. That’s far beyond my paygrade. But I awoke this morning, somber and contemplative, thinking we’ve been fighting for 12 years and there’s still no end in sight. And, according to what we’ve been told, in our sunlight society, there’s been very little dialogue. Perhaps it was the music, with its splendor and conversation, that lead me to believe in a more altruistic approach.
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Maria Popova publishes the intellectually stimulating blog Brain Pickings, a lamentable categorization for it is more appropriately a Repository of all that is Good (another lamentable name, but for different reasons). Popova reads everything under the sun and uses her blog as a vehicle for disseminating wisdom essential for a good life. Two of her recent posts, from Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, emphasize love and community.
From Russell, a measured, reasonable affirmation of love: “The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple: I should say, love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way — and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”
From Einstein, a meditation on the worth of the individual in the community: “Only the individual can think, and thereby create new values for society — nay, even set up new moral standards to which the life of the community conforms. Without creative, independently thinking and judging personalities the upward development of society is as unthinkable as the development of the individual personality without the nourishing soil of the community…The health of society thus depends quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close social cohesion.”
I do not know much. But I do know that when we empower our youth—when we give them tools, teach them of human dignity, and enlighten many paths—they are no longer at the mercy of the cool kid or the bully. Our students stand bravely, with a laudable righteousness. They become good, thoughtful, enlightened humans. They resist evil and ignorance because they realize both are detrimental to our collective security and flourishing.
Global Initiatives Director
This blog is the collective voice of every person involved in the Global Initiative. Just as the globe hosts billions of disparate voices, we hope this space will embody and embrace the same diversity.