Disclaimer: This article is written from the context of immediately finding out about news of a terrorist attack. (Prior to any legal proceedings, formal investigations, etc.)
If you’re a leader in any domain of life, observers will often look to you for a guidance of opinion. Underestimating our ability to influence the minds of those who respect and look up to us is a mistake. In the specific scenario of tragic events taking place in the world you live, your opinionated response may cultivate others’ (perhaps extreme) opinions on the same subject. Your kids may be watching you watch the news, and your students may be looking at you for signs on exactly how to feel about tragic worldly events.
Acts of terrorism are difficult things to react to in an optimal, unemotional, unbiased way because of their often politicized nature. Sometimes, a terrorist associates themselves to be a member of a group we identify with, and sometimes, they target that group with violent attacks. Acts of terror entice us to be emotional, and partisan, in our reactions to them. We often feel anger, sadness, and a desire to seek revenge over anybody who takes credit for causing harm to innocent civilians.
Though you may not feel it, you play a role in muffling and discouraging future acts of terror around the world. You may not have a loud voice in the sphere of public discourse, but you certainly have some influence over at least one person in your life. As long as you have an effect on one other mind on this planet, you have the capacity to make a large impact on the minds of many.
Your reaction can be so right and poignant, that it motivates one individual to act the same way around others. You’re capable of starting a chain of responses to tragic events which serve to dissuade angered members of the public from seeking revenge and propelling a cycle of terror.
This article is backed by the perspective that we all have a role to play in dissuading acts of terror. This article also assumes that dissuading future acts of terror is a beneficial thing to attempt. The act of doing so (dissuading) is centered on how we, ourselves, react to tragic events that take place. This article is about your reactions to acts of terror, and to the people behind those acts. It aims to guide your responses to three subjects which are present in all horrific, terroristic acts: the suspect(s), the victim(s), and the punishment / revenge.
Reacting to the Suspect
The public’s obvious point of focus surrounding acts of terror is often directed at the suspects who commit them. Though there is a popular belief that it is best to not identify, name, or explore a suspect’s background, those rules are seldom followed by the public or the media. Our understanding of a malicious act seems to only be complete when we know who did it, and why they did. A motive is quickly sought out, and a background study is undertaken on the suspect(s) in question. In an effort to dig for answers as to why they did what they did, we far too often make the mistake of being blind to the fact that we, ourselves, are part of the reason why.
The attention we give, and attributions we make regarding motives, are powerful in their ability to motivate other malicious individuals to act on their violent desires.
Suspects often have a publicized reason for their acts; in the form of manifestos or historical patterns, stances, and behaviors. If they do, it is important to refrain (as much as possible) from grouping them with anyone that they seek to be grouped with. Do not give suspects what they seek in terms of assuming a certain identity. Their requests to be grouped with others are often strategic, and only help propagate the effects of their terroristic acts.
Strip the suspect of the luxury of having a (higher) purpose behind their acts. Doing so, will discourage those who listen from making any sense of the senseless acts. It will also dissuade those whose purpose differs from the suspect’s purpose, from retaliating in any way.
Always attempt to present the suspect as being alone in their desires when you present your opinions on the matter. Try to always look to potential causes which are personal and intrinsic to the suspect in question, while refraining from attributing a suspect’s motives as stemming from a group or subset of a population.
No matter how right you may be in your association between a suspect and a particular group of people, refraining from making that association goes on to minimize how many people take the suspect’s side and share the suspect’s opinion.
If you were to attribute a school shooter’s motives to stem from being an avid video game fan for instance, you’d entice other video game fans who are sound minded to feel attacked by the public’s discourse on the matter. Though they may be against the acts of the terrorist in question, they’d feel a need to defend that person’s video game habits solely out of a desire to protect their own habits from the public’s harsh interpretation. There will be others who take the public’s attributions more seriously, and may take more drastic measures to prove the public wrong.
If you choose to share the suspect’s identity, try your best to cut off their potential motives from as many other people’s identities, habits, or behaviors as you can. Present suspects as being backed by absolutely no notion which other sound minded individuals may legitimately back. Those motives can include political ideologies, religious beliefs, leisurely habits, or even a personal style of dressing. Present suspects as rotten in their own mind and soul as best you could, and cut them off from anyone who may share the same beliefs but who isn’t a terrorist themselves.
Reacting to the Victims
There should be two goals in mind when mentioning the victims of attacks. First, make the story about them. Name them, celebrate them, and publicize them. Second, though they may have lost everything (their lives) in the attack, make them out to be the winners of their exchange with terror.
Ensure those who are planning on executing the same despicable acts on other innocent people, see less value in doing so. Try your best to present any targeted group of people as having won by living life without the need to resort to barbaric acts. Try your best to celebrate any efforts to stop the suspect in their acts, and make heroes out of those who lost their lives due to incomprehensible acts of violence.
The violent in this life are the ones who lose. They’re the ones who’ve let a set of incomprehensible, primal, and barbaric emotions guide their animalistic acts. Those who attack innocent people are lesser in relation to their victims; who’ve paid a price they did not owe.
Try your best to study the victims of acts of terror. Communicate the fact of how similar victims are to you, and to the people you talk to. Though it may be difficult to do, try not to present victims in a victimized tone. Feel sorry for them, but don’t make them seem like they’ve lost in any way. Hold them up, gift them fame, and ensure they are remembered.
Whilst explaining the events that have taken place, stick to simply what has been proven, and what was visible. Stay away from presenting your opinion on motives, philosophies, could haves, and should haves. Be pragmatic in your recital of events, and refrain from offering your editorials on the matter apart from being excessively respectful of the victims at hand.
Reacting to the Punishment
As you’re discussing the most recent acts of terror, you’ll be enticed to voice what you want done to the suspects in return for their crimes. People around you will advocate for death penalties, life in prison, and other serious litigious punishments. Others, will take the bait the suspects set for them, and call for the punishment of anyone who believes what the suspect believes, looks the way the suspect looks, and prays to the same god that the suspect prays to.
Remember one thing, your call for punishment shows only who you are as a person, not who you think the suspect is. Your decision on what the punishment should be will be a direct representation of who you are as an individual. In calling for senseless, violent, punishment and revenge, you fail to learn the lessons contained in the matter at hand.
A human, or a group of them, acted in inhumane ways. They’ve already showed themselves to the world, and now, there’s nothing else left to prove. They are terrorists, they are murderers, and they are unwelcome in society.
Who are you? Are you one who calls for similar acts, except pointed toward a different group of people? Are you someone who shares the same underlying philosophies surrounding punishment as the ones who’ve committed punishing acts of terror?
Or are you someone who believes in a better, more virtuous, system of retribution which separates you from the barbarians committing senseless crimes?
We differ from terrorists not by they way we think, but by the way we act and react. We are civilized not because of what we say, but because of the standards that we hold ourselves accountable to. Be calm in your calls for justice when discussing the most recent acts of terror. Allow the court of law to follow due process and come up with a civilized, humane, reaction to the actions of an uncivilized, inhumane individual. Be a positive example of exactly how the civilized, educated, and virtuous person differs from the ones who contemplate executing these vile acts.