We live in an era of Random Acts of Violence. Yesterday yet another mass shooting occurred in San Bernardino CA. Last week a shooter took it upon himself to assault a Planned Parenthood center. We are only a few weeks removed from the Assault on Paris. Some of the random acts are terrorist-based. Others are politically motivated. Some of the assailants are simply angry. The impact of these random acts of violence on most of us is that we become afraid.
Such fear is not neurotic. I remember that in 2001 I was scheduled to run in the New York City Marathon. Up until a week before, city officials considered cancelling the marathon because it was unknown as to whether more terrorist attacks were coming. Fully a third of the registered runners cancelled. I have to confess feeling some fear myself. One of the first challenges, then, with the fear we experience in the face of random violence is how much power we give to that fear. Do we avoid travel? Do we steer clear of anyone who looks suspicious or at the very least belongs to a minority? Do we arm ourselves?
Politicians clearly taking advantage of this fear, seeking our votes by voicing angry solutions to fear. “We must identify potential terrorists!” say some. “We must close our borders!” say others. “We must stand by our right to arm ourselves!” say still others.
At a psychological level, fear informs my approach to potentially dangerous situations. As we said over and over again in the Army, “Stay alert. Stay alive!” How vigilant must I become if I venture out? Who is my enemy?
Fear also becomes a spiritual issue. It confronts me with the harsh reality that bad things happen to very good people. It confronts me with my own beliefs about evil and the manifestations of evil. AA encourages me to “let go and let God”. Some religions suggest that I can pray for and receive protection from God. Do such attitudes increase the odds that I won’t be a victim of a random act of violence?
Some religious leaders quote from the Book of Revelations and tell us we are in the End Times, interpreting this and other parts of Sacred Scripture to identify who speaks for God and who speaks for Satan.
Once again, I fall back on Viktor Frankl to help me. I can do very little about the degree of random violence in the world but I always have a choice as to how I face this. I have a choice over the extent to which I will live me life in fear.
The final challenge I face in these violent days has to do with those troublesome words “Love your enemy.” Really? I am supposed to love and forgive the Paris terrorist? The shooters in San Bernardino? Those who open fire on innocent children? If not, then who is the enemy that I am free not to love? Again, there is a choice to make here. Do I try to follow the guidance of a Great Teacher or to I follow the guidance of Howard Beal?
Reflection: How do you deal with random acts of violence and the related fear we can feel?