Saturday, November 14, 2015

On Humanity

Paris was the first place outside North America I ever visited. I was 18, and I went with my parents and my best friend from high school. I remember feeling as though I'd landed on another planet, something out of a fairytale or an old movie. I'll never forget the feeling of staring out the airplane window at the unfamiliar landmarks, streets, and cars. I was speechless then, and I'm speechless now.

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.

Credit: Bansky


  1. September 11th was a watershed for me. In the distant vein of youth is the idea that you someday want to be part of history. That furtive wish was played out that day and my life has not been the same since.

    We are angered, we are frustrated, and a part of our primitive selves wishes we could pray at the altar of Zeus, that he might smite our enemies with lightning. But it's going to take something more, something harder, to defeat such evil: pure, compassionate, unfettered love. Human society is perhaps not yet ready for such a thing, but we must plant the seeds of it now, lest humanity become a desert.

  2. Clear, refreshing truth. Thanks.

  3. Thank you, spot on, I hardly ever "share" but will share yours today.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.