Since the Paris attacks last week, people have posted all kinds of negative things on social media. But today, I watched a very touching video of a Parisian father whose wife was killed in the attack. He is a now a single father of a 17-month old son. He has vowed not to let the terrorists win. He will do this by doing every-day things and teaching his son to be a caring person.
I was raised in a small town in Nebraska in the 1950-60’s. I felt safe. Why? Because I knew people. People watched out for me. I knew people who knew people. We didn’t have electronic devices to communicate, so we learned to watch and observe. We could recognize strangers. We learned to recognize potentially dangerous situations. We knew there were risks of going to certain parts of town after dark. We were taught to observe people, places and things that might harm us. We knew our environment and people watched out for one another.
I went off to college to the “big city” of Lincoln, Nebraska. But I still felt safe because I lived in the college community. I knew practically everyone in my dorm and many people in the other dorms. I knew classmates and professors, cleaning people and cafeteria workers. I recognized other college students as we passed, taking the same route to classes every day. We often nodded and greeted one another. I was in organizations on campus and I went to Sunday Mass at the Newman Center where there were more familiar faces. I knew a lot of people in the student section of the stadium, cheering the Huskers to victory. (It was 1971-73 and a great time to be a fan!)
On campuses today, people seem much more isolated, walking around with their heads down, texting or looking at their smart phones. We have not taught our children to be aware of their surroundings, to pick up on signs of danger.
I married a small town boy who had grown up in a more isolated area than I did. He took a job in Omaha. Scared me to death. Big, bad Omaha, where they shoot each other. At least, that is what we read in the newspaper. I soon discovered that Omaha people were friendly. Many of my friends were much like me—raised in a small town, but ended up in the city as adults. I felt safe. My childhood rearing had paid off. I knew what to watch for and how to avoid risky situations. Or at least, recognize that the situation might be risky before I did it anyway.
A few years ago, we moved to Chicago and it was quite a shock.
People in large cities are anonymous. Most people don’t give eye contact. With all those people, it can be a very lonely place. If you don’t care to know your neighbor, you can have 100 neighbors but no contact with them.
Our new neighbors must have thought I was a crazy woman because I made cookies and took them to the houses around us and introduced myself. I got to know my neighbors, at least by name, because I took the initiative. Had I waited for them to introduce themselves to me, we would have waited a long time.
Four years later, we were transferred back to Omaha and moved into an established neighborhood.
Immediately, the neighbors came over with cakes and cookies and introduced themselves. One couple had an evening “coffee” with all the neighbors there to meet us. They wanted to know more about us, not in a nosy manner, but an inviting way. And they told us about their jobs, families and situation.
Our society seems to be losing that sense of community and neighborliness. We are so focused on work and making money, that we are becoming more isolated and within ourselves and small group.
The old adage “There is safety in numbers” is true. The more people you know and understand, the better off you are.
So, what does this have to do with terrorism? I think one of the biggest deterrents we can use against terrorism is being neighborly. Get to know people. Don’t be afraid to ask their names. Get to know their backgrounds. Show an interest.
Imagine if people had made an effort to know some of the guys before they shot up movie theaters or college campuses. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe someone would have recognized that this person was dangerous or was “on the edge” and got help or reported their behavior.
Same with the terrorists, who were members of a cell living in Belgium. Belgium, not Syria. NOW people share stories about these people, telling us how bad the neighborhood is, how they felt uneasy around these guys, how they witnessed suspicious behavior. What if these “witnesses” would have shown the same concern before the attack happened?
Of course, there are no guarantees that someone won’t attack, but it might help if we were a little more aware of our surroundings, aware of our neighbors, aware of potentially dangerous or risky situations. And act on them.
- Get to know your “part of the world.” Observe your environment. Don’t walk around with your nose in your smart phone.
- Notice things.
- Ask people about themselves. Be friendly. Get to know them.
- Become less self-absorbed and more interested in other people.
- Protect and help those around you. Teach your children what to look for without frightening them.
- Remind them of their strengths and abilities so they grow to be confident, aware individuals.
- Focus more on others than your bank account. Check your priorities. What is really of value to you?
- Broaden your circle of friends. Get to know friends of friends.
- Don’t let the terrorists or shooters “win.” Live your life without fear.
- Avoid lumping any group of people together. We Americans are all different. America is a country of refugees and our family roots show us that, at some point, we, too, were refugees. No color, religion, or form of dress defines us. We should not define others by color, religion or dress.
Our country was founded on freedom. We want to protect that freedom but we should also want that freedom for others.
Many times in our history, we have helped others find freedom. Americans helped free the world from Nazi terror in WWII. Our example helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Numerous people are living free today because of American sacrifice. We haven’t always gotten it “right” but we shouldn’t let that stop us.
Our forefathers didn’t say “Only Christians can come” or “America belongs to only certain people.” One person’s freedom isn’t more important than another’s and we need to show that to the terrorists by living as we always have, an open society willing to give others a chance at freedom.
As I wrap up this blog post this morning, I overhear a gentleman being interviewed on television about how to fight terrorism. He said “Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid.” He must have read my mind.
“Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid” should be our mantra.