How has the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon affected you? Has it left you wondering how any one individual or group could be so terrifyingly evil by planting bombs at a huge sporting event?
This is not a post about the horrible events in Boston on Monday 15 April 2013 in particular but on what we can do to prevent this violent act defining our lives. Not only this incident, but other past and those future violent incidents still to come. Regrettably, there will be more.
Like all concerned people, my thoughts are with those who lost loved ones and those who suffered serious injuries. As a former marathon runner and one who has lost a parent and good friends to terrorism, I can imagine what the injured and the families of those killed and maimed are going through. Many lives will never be the same again.
The sad reality is that millions of people around the world live with similar situations of adversity or terror every day. In Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Burma and much of Africa, violent death due to political, criminal or even state actions is a way of life.
For a large part of my life in both Rhodesia and South Africa, terrorist bombs in supermarkets, government buildings and public places frequently killed and injured innocent by-standers. Indiscriminately ending or shattering the lives of Black and White, young or old, male or female. Landmines on roads in farming and tribal areas took their toll on both military and civilian targets.
Two of the most horrific incidents were the shooting down of two civilian Viscount aircraft and the subsequent murder of 10 survivors on the ground by terrorists in 1979. Years later, the murders, brutality and intimidation of farmers in the illegal farm occupations were a further chapter in a continuing catalogue of terrorism.
Terrorist and all violent acts will always horrify and shock us, we would not be normal human beings if they did not. However life must go on.
Victory for the terrorists is not measured as much by the number of casualties as it is by the disruption the normal functioning of society. If we let this incident stop us going about our daily lives, prevent us from competing or attending sporting events, we hand victory to the terrorists.
As humans we have a far greater capacity of resilience and for overcoming adversity, than we might believe. Survivors of atrocities from the Holocaust, the Balkan wars, the Rwandan genocide, 9/11 and other horrendous events attest to that.
In our terrorist war and subsequent periods of violence, we found that our capacity to endure was influenced by several factors. Initially by patriotism, pride in our country and the fact that we were the last bastion in Africa against a tide of communist sponsored terrorism. Eventually it became part of life.
Sadly, as humans, our resistance to evil and horror is either destroyed by the first violent experience or incrementally strengthened by each subsequent event. Either we remove ourselves from the source of the fear by moving to a new city or country (if we can) or we make adjustments to our lives and carry on.
Some Rhodesians did leave, but far fewer than did so when we were eventually forced to hand our country over to the terrorists. South African emigration followed a similar pattern.
Those of us that stayed became conditioned to violence. Bombs, landmines, ambushes and murders no longer had the same effect on us. The normalcy bias is very strong, until an incident directly affects us, we believe that “it won’t happen to me”. I remember going to four funerals in one week, two for older people dying from natural causes and two friends killed in action. That made me sad, but did not make me change my routine.
A huge advantage then, was the absence of cable or satellite TV, 24 hour news stations and of course social media. We had one TV channel and a handful of radio stations with infrequent news bulletins. “Breaking News” and drama-filled interviews with victims had not been dreamed up. Reports were factual, concise, broadcast to let people know the important details but not to create alarm and despondency.
With most men spending half their lives in uniform, we did not have time to agonise over bad news, we had jobs to do, businesses or farms to run and families to look after. We had to cram a lot of living into four or six-week intervals of normality between the same periods in the bush.
The best thing we can do for the victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon or any violent incident is to give them our thoughts and prayers, donate blood, money, products or services if needed. Give emotional or practical support if they are family, friends or connected to us in some other way. Then switch the drama off and get on with our lives.
What we should not do, is remain in a state of shock, curtail our normal activities, cancel social or sporting attendances. That’s what the terrorists want, that is how they win.
We cannot help the victims by endlessly watching re-runs of the bomb blasts on TV news channels or You Tube videos. The same with interviews on radio, in print or dramatic accounts and wild speculation in social media. I watch very little TV, an international news bulletin twice a day and not much more. Right now, I have stopped even that, I am not being callous, but I do not need to see or hear any more about the Boston bombs until the perpetrators are identified and hopefully caught.
Yes we need to be aware of what is going on in the world, but once we have heard or seen the story once, why stay glued to the screen like a moth to a candle flame. It is only going to burn us more, not help us.
That is how we develop the resilience to overcome the effects of terrorism and violence. Acknowledge that it has happened, do what we can for the victims and refuse to let it define our lives.
Wishing you success and the resilience to deal with life.
Image courtesy of Idea Go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net