Like most of us, I was saddened and horrified by the attacks in Paris on Friday night. I was traveling, and did not fully immerse myself in the news until a few days later. The responses are all over the map.
There are a significant number of people who blame “the other” for the attacks. Many politicians seem to be reacting from fear by calling for restrictions on Syrian refugees. Yet the reality is that most of the terrorists were European citizens. Other leaders make rational, data driven arguments that the refugees are victims of trauma themselves, and merit our help not scorn. Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m disgusted to see politicians grandstanding and saying that they won’t accept Syrian refugees in their states. However, I think the real issue for us to grapple with is the appropriate spiritual response to Paris. I don’t mean prayer or calls for peace. Rather, I ask myself what do the Paris attacks trigger my own Soul Traits? How can I work on my spiritual curriculum? Do my own actions bring people together, or do they ever lead anyone to feel alienated or alone?
Mussar Lessons After Paris Terrorist Attack
The debate about the refugees reminds me of the struggle inside all of us between the Good Inclination and the Evil Inclination. The Evil Inclination comes from our emotional drives and survival impulses. When there is an attack, the EI screams “Protect Protect” and automatically looks externally for threats. In contrast, Good Inclination derives from our social and intellectual abilities. The GI will look at data, offer a rational course of action, and reminds us that we all share a Divine Spark. When we remember the Divine Spark in the other, the bar is much higher for judgement and reactivity. And, the GI fosters our desire to give comfort to others in need.
When something like the Paris attacks happen, we are all tested.
A government can close its borders. An an individual can close his or her heart.
It is far easier to see this issue as something in Europe and the Middle East. It is more comfortable to frame the discussion around military solutions or refugee assistance than it is to take the opportunity to look within. The French government should ask of the welfare of it’s citizens of North African ancestry. Yes, Isis funded and trained people, and I think a military response is warranted. However, the masterminds and most attackers were European. I admit it, I notice that the attackers do not look like the people I think of as typical Europeans. But if I let the difference in skin tone color my reactions, I will have failed an important spiritual test. I need to rise to the occasion, and train myself to think of these dark skinned people born in France as French.
But even then, if I am only thinking of Europe, I will miss the greater test. Did you see the article in the Huffpost about the conversation between Alex Malloy and his Muslim cab driver in New York City? Malloy was thanked by his cab driver when he got in. Why? He was the first fare the driver had had in two hours. You see, the driver was a Muslim, and no one would get in his cab. Malloy wrote on twitter that the driver was crying, and said “Allah my God does not want this but people think I am a part of it and I’m not. Nobody wants to drive with me bc they feel unsafe.” Malloy expressed his support, shared his experience on Twitter and was shocked to find over 30K retweets overnight. “Please stop generalizing ppl” was his plea. While I don’t know Alex Malloy personally, I thank him for having an open heart when the taxi pulled to the curb to offer him a ride.
Please stop generalizing captures the spiritual challenge when our soul trait of Honor is out of balance. We were born to judge, and few of us will ever escape our instinct to judge any time soon. (I know that I won’t.) However, we do not have to listen to or act on the judging voice. We have the opportunity to overcome our judgements and unconscious bias on a daily basis.
Just now, someone’s computer in the library started playing a loud video. My first thoughts about the person were unkind. My instinct was to pick up the sign saying “quiet area” and put it on his table. Thankfully I did not act on the impulse. It was only when he managed to shut off whatever was happening did I realize that it was an ad that started playing without his permission.
If Parisians can overcome their fears to flock back to the cafes and museums, than surely I can find a way to mentally quiet my judging voice more quickly. And, I’d like to think I can find a way to support the Stranger in my own community. After all, I was once a stranger in the land of Egypt.
I hope that you did not lose someone close to you in the attack, and may we all find the resolve to become better people.