Friday, April 19, 2013

I Don’t Have a Single … Friend, I Don’t Understand Them

There are several reports that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the brothers accused of responsibility for the Boston Marathon bombing (and related violent incidents), said:

I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them.

I find that statement to be chilling, but not for the reason that you might think. Let me make one slight edit to the statement and then I’ll ask you to read it again:

I don't have a single … friend, I don't understand them.

How many American teenagers go to sleep every night thinking just that sort of thought?

Fortunately, most American teens who feel this way don’t build bombs and look for ways to hurt their fellow citizens.

They just kill themselves.

When they tire of being alone or of being bullied or of thinking that nobody understands or cares, they pull the trigger or pop the pills or put the noose around their neck.

But what if they didn’t? What if, instead of finding a way to commit suicide, they lashed out at society? What if the victims of bullying decided to go out in a “blaze of glory” … and to take the bullies with them? What if they sought revenge on the system that didn’t protect them or the society that they felt didn’t care about them?

Perhaps the reason for this terrorist incident is religious fanaticism or extremism. Perhaps. But might it have been triggered or the radicalization have been enabled by a sense of not belonging?

I don’t know.

But I think that I can safely say that, among all of the other possible lessons to take from this horrible series of events, is the idea that we, as a society, need to reach out to those around us who might not fit in, who might not be part of the “popular crowd”, who might look a little different. That small effort of reaching out a hand of friendship or even simple caring and concern to those who might feel that society doesn’t care about them, might be all that it takes to begin to bring someone back from that dangerous precipice. Perhaps a kind word, maybe telling a bully to back off, some kind of random of act of kindness might be all that is needed help someone know that they’re not alone in the world.

Will those simple acts stop acts of terror? No. Probably not. But I doubt that it would make the situation worse. And, especially as it relates to Muslim kids our our communities, how might they react to the Islamophobia that is so rampant in our society? If you watch Fox News or listen to right wing radio, there is an almost palpable blood lust being expressed toward Muslims. How comfortable would you be if everyone thought that you and people like you were terrorists or capable of horrible violence just because of your religion (or your skin color or any other train)? Perhaps just letting our Muslim acquaintances know that we don’t blame them for the acts of other Muslims, would lessen the likelihood that they’d take solace in the message of radical anti-American belief. Perhaps.

But might simple acts of friendship and kindness help stop a teen’s depression from growing so severe that suicide seems the only response? I’d like to hope so. Friendship may not stop terrorism, but I’d like to think that it will help teenagers get through … well, life.

Please take time over the next days and weeks to look around you. Look at people, especially teens, who seem to be alone or disaffected. And reach out a hand in friendship or caring. Try. And suggest that your children do the same. Ask your kids to do something as small as saying something nice to their classmates or maybe sit at lunch with someone who usually sits alone. Maybe even just a smile.

It can’t hurt, can it?

Update: Almost immediately after posting the foregoing, I realized that some might think that I’m excusing these acts of terror. I’m not. Not in any way, shape, or form. I don’t condone terrorism for any reason (and I’d think that readers of this blog would recognize that). My point, with regard to the Tsarnaev brothers (and others like them) is that perhaps if we were able to find ways to help them feel as if they are a part of the community as opposed to apart from it, they might not be so easily swayed by the lure of radical Islam in the first place.

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