The Death of Bin Laden and Our Reactions to Reactions
Last night was a big night for America in many ways. At least a big night for many Americans, and indeed those throughout the world. Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was killed by American special forces Pakistan. Crowds gathered outside the White House, at Ground Zero, and several other places to celebrate this fact. (Though from the footage it seems most of the crowd started to deteriorate into drunken debauchery after an hour or so in most locations.)
I, like I imagine everyone else, am still processing this. I don’t know exactly how I feel now, and I may never. But I know for certainty that not everyone is celebrating this. And I don’t refer to Al-Qaeda.
Yes, there are many reasons that good people have for not being happy about last night’s celebrations of news that the most wanted man on Earth had been shot through the head and killed. I don’t yet know if I share any of those concerns or not, but the point is that is we are not careful, we can lose sight of the truth about people. That they are very complex creatures.
Between the chants of “USA!” at baseball stadiums, spontaneous performances of The Star Spangled Banner in Times Square, and the eerie solemnity of the echoed voice of the President of the United States in an empty East Room that announced this death to the world, we must remember that the exuberance is not universal among decent people.
In the coming weeks much will be said about those who were quiet in the bars. Those who didn’t post anything on Facebook, or more “dangerously”, posted thoughts of sadness and mercy. Thoughts and emotions unfairly deemed by the masses as almost seditious. We must remain vigilant against this just as much as we must remain vigilant against a retaliatory strike against us.
My point does not apply only to the Bin Laden news, however. But the story serves as a stark reminder that each of us must not judge anyone by the nature of their visible reactions to something. No matter how universal a particular sentiment may seem, we cannot allow ourselves to forget, as we go about our day and our lives that each person deserves to be evaluated by their individual, inward motivations and moral compass, and not necessarily by their outward expressions and projections. Evil people exist. But do we dare make that determination based on a few moments observing their outward behavior?
The majority, and even the vast majority of sentiments about an event does not determine de facto appropriateness anymore than the rarity of a response determines de facto inappropriateness. Look deep into people when you can, and if you cannot, don’t assign motivations to them. You’re a better person than that.