What happened in Paris today is a challenge to our collective humanity. And what I mean by that is that these terrorist attacks present a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to compassion. And compassion--not vengeance--is what makes us human.
It's human nature to want vengeance, first and foremost. I don't say that from an entirely neutral standpoint, either. Unfortunately, I have known first hand the horror of a terrorist attack. I saw people die. I thought I would die too. The things I saw in my hometown of New York City on 9/11 are burned in my mind. They changed my view of death forever. I wanted swift vengeance to befall the people responsible. I still grieve over that day.
But ever since 9/11, we've heard a lot about how the terrorists "win." If we don't close our borders and build walls, the terrorists win. If we don't submit to every indignity and groping by the TSA, the terrorists win. If we don't suspect and castigate our fellow humans, the terrorists win. If we don't buy things, the terrorists win.
But actually, I don't think the terrorists "win" under any of these scenarios.
In my view, the terrorists win when we lose our collective humanity--when we lose our compassion. When we lose the ability to distinguish between fringe groups of vile murderers and conflate them with entire cultures and religions. When we decide to shut down, rather than open our arms to the desperate families who are fleeing the very forces that are apparently responsible for unleashing tonight's carnage.
I don't pray in any traditional sense of that word. But I do think and hope a lot. So my thoughts and my hope are with Paris tonight and the victims of these crimes. My hope for them is that these criminals are brought to justice quickly, and that in the process, none of us lose the compassion that makes us human.
Because when that happens, the terrorists really do win.