The Urge to Do Something in Paris Aftermath Misleading

Eyes Wide Open tries to humanize the loss of all life in Iraq War.
Eyes Wide Open exhibit displays shoes from Iraqi civilians and US soldiers killed in the war.

Yesterday I clicked through an email from the Climate Reality Project to watch 24 Hours of Climate Reality and instead read a message that the broadcast was suspended in consideration of the violence in Paris. This was how I learned of the horror that had been unleashed in coordinated terror attacks.  I logged onto the New York Times website and logged off after about 1 minute of watching senseless video of people meandering around the football pitch or police cars speeding down Parisian streets. By now we all know the drill. Lots of senseless interviews with people who know nothing or can say nothing and bad estimates of the extent of the harm. I decided to turn it all off.

What is a leader to do in face of the ongoing violence? Judging by Facebook most people want to DO something. For some it is a primal angry urge to retaliate. Even before information is in about who attacked whom and why. They filled in the blanks by swearing to sign up for military service or in some way extract an eye for an eye.

In this instance, we cannot alleviate our need to DO SOMETHING by donating to Red Cross or Oxfam.  Although I would not be surprised if some craven political candidates did not suggest a donation to them would be a welcome response. They promise to deal with ISIS. As though their force of personality will trump the collective intelligence of the people already assembled in Situation Rooms around the world.

Other people were dropping to their knees to pray, mainly for the victims in Paris including all of the citizens of Paris whom these attacks were intended to terrorize. I am among those who feel “pray first” is a good response for almost any situation. Especially while we are still trying to make sense of a situation.

I have been a student of International Relations since the Cold War. Ah, simpler times. Sure we worried about Mutually Assured Destruction but as one character in Madam Secretary said, at least we knew the people on the other side did not want to push the button anymore than we did.

Are the people in the Middle East really such different human beings than us or the Russians? I do not think so. Casting them all as evil villains seems a dangerously simplistic way of dealing with the world.

I believe in the innate value of every human life. I believe we are all imbued with a little bit of God’s spirit. My way of seeing God is through my cultural understanding of Jesus, but I admit that God is bigger than my limited way of seeing Him/Her. I want to be more like Jesus, which means I have to transcend my own petty view of the world and love humankind the way Jesus did. God transcends gender, tribe, nation and religion.

When I look at recent wars in the Middle East, I see a complete lack of compassion for the innocent victims of our aggression. Over 10 years ago, the American Service Friends Committee and others created the Eyes Wide Open exhibit to illustrate the impact of the war in Iraq on civilians. It came to Sacramento’s Capitol grounds and evoked little response. I was opposed to the Iraq war, as I am to initiating any war and I found the exhibit profounding moving. I could not find a way to translate my values into any coherent action.

The challenge I am facing as a leader is to somehow transcend any angry gut response and expand my capacity to love.  To mourn the mothers and children, fathers and grandpas who were counted as “collateral damage” in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. I must seek ways to make peace.

I want to find ways to connect with people for dialogue to help move beyond a base level  “get ’em” response to something that builds peace. Transformation will not happen in a moment, but we can begin to build a series of moments that will ultimately lead to a shift and then a swerve.

Lack of action on climate change, racial inequality, refuges, gun violence, and the roots of terrorism.–they are all connected to an inability to see the preciousness of every kind of human.

That is as far as my meditation on the Paris attacks have taken me. Will you join me in not taking action today?

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