A month and a half ago was Parents’ Weekend here at George Washington University. My mom, who lives in Jerusalem, had her flight booked months in advance and I was looking forward to seeing her for the first time in more than five months. The day before the flight, she cancelled her trip because of the wave of stabbings that had been plaguing Israel. Rightfully so, she said she wouldn’t forgive herself if anything were to happen to my younger brother while she was gone.
In the past weeks, this practice we label as “terrorism” has seemed to infiltrate the lives, both indirectly and directly, of nearly every world citizen. But the question I found that I was asking myself was, “what really is terrorism?”
I define terrorism as this: when the hate-filled actions of others have direct, negative consequences on not only the victims, but also indirect consequences on the parties who did not subject themselves to be a part of the situation. These attacks had an impact on a college student nearly 6,000 miles away, who thought he could not possibly be directly affected by a situation taking place an ocean away.
I saw a video on CNN of tourists in Paris being interviewed about their reactions to the attacks. A young couple from India said that they were starting to accept the fact that this was the world we live in now, a world where the threat of such violence is real on a daily basis, no matter who you are or where you are in the world. Their response didn’t sit well with me.
Why should we have to accept the status quo of such a world? I had thought that it was only soldiers going into war who had to accept the risk of being wounded or killed. These weren’t risks I associated with people going to a concert or a soccer game, people travelling abroad or doing volunteer work, or simply people going about their everyday lives. We should not have to live in a world where we accept the risk of being wounded or killed for stepping outside of our home into the public sphere. This is a right — not a privilege — a right that some are trying to take away from us.
What’s been just as frustrating for me as the attacks has been the uproar that has ensued on social media as a result of these attacks. It seems to me that even before an argument is made, it has become a precondition to establish oneself — either explicitly or implicitly — as pro-this or pro-that or anti-this or anti-that.
The biggest barrier to meaningful dialogue and action is the fact that our multifaceted society has fragmented into a dichotomous society. The world is not black and white, and we must not treat it as us such. Rather, we must look at the issues we face by examining them along a spectrum. By taking one side, whether you like it or not, you immediately distance yourself from the other side.
What’s even more frustrating to me is when one side goes and tries to convince the complete opposite side that they’re wrong. What’s the point? What are you trying to accomplish? Do you really think that this person is going to flip their political, moral or religious beliefs a complete 180 degrees because of something you said in person, or even less convincing, posted online? No, and it’s wrong to expect that. If we were to examine issues along a spectrum, we would leave room for common ground.
No one knows everything. Even experts don’t know everything. So why act like we do? Nothing good can be achieved through intellectual pride. It is humility that earns the trust and respect of others, especially during political arguments. One of my favorite quotes is that of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, when he teaches us that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” It’s time that we start doing that a little more, no matter how opposed you are to the opinion of “the other.” Our fear of “the other” — whether it be of another political view, religious belief, or anything else — fosters staticity and prevents tangible change from occurring.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Don’t accept the status quo, but don’t try and change it by isolating others, because thinking in black and white terms makes for a gray world. Try to look at life through the diverse spectrum that is the human experience.