This is Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned off the coast of Turkey last September. Some media sources chose not to publish the photo. I think everyone needs to see it. It’s emblematic of a world where things have gone badly wrong.
Aylan likely had no idea why his family was leaving home on what must have been a difficult trek with little planning. He probably could feel his parents’ fear as they traveled, trying to stay hidden while moving, hunkering down when soldiers or ISIS fighters passed by. He had no choice in the matter. He was on the move because his family was fleeing. Their fear must have been enormous.
So many things have gone wrong. According to the New York Times, over 200,000 people have been killed in Syria in the last four and a half years, and more than 4 million have fled the country. Worldwide, Time Magazine (Jan. 4, 2016) reports that 20 million refugees crossed borders in 2014, and another 40 million are displaced within their own countries. Though the refugee issue has become a regular news headline in Western Europe, 8 in 10 refugees live in developing countries where resources are inadequate.
In November, terrorists massacred 130 people in Paris. Less than a month later, 14 people were killed by terrorists in San Bernardino, Calif. ABC News reported that terrorists claimed the lives of nearly 18,000 people worldwide in 2013.
War and terrorism require that we be vigilant, but they have also elicited fear, and fear can be ugly. Politicians have called for bombing the sand of Syria until it glows. Governors want to close their borders (as if they have that power). Some politicians think that only Christian refugees should be accepted into the U.S.; Muslims should be barred. A message of hate against anything Muslim is slowly permeating the U.S.
These are scary times, but simplistic answers designed to resonate with base emotions are usually inadequate. Then there’s the matter of how those answers fuel more fear and hate.
Rev. Virginia Lohmann Bauman, pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio, tells us, “Let’s not let those who have succumbed to fear and hate determine how we respond in these challenging times.” Michael Olson, bishop of the Forth Worth Diocese, counsels us, “We cannot succumb to fear by closing our doors and hearts to all refugees because of the evil of a few.”
It’s not just a matter of good conscience that’s at stake. Action based on emotion is less likely to be successful than action based on analysis. When fears lights up the limbic system in our brain, emotion takes over, and we are ready to fight, a carry-over from the days when our ancestors roamed the plains where plenty of hungry beasts were looking for a meal.
That type of reaction is still helpful today, but not in all situations because when the limbic system lights up, thinking drops off. We can fight when enraged, or we can think rationally when composed, but we can’t be enraged and think rationally. Reactive emotion in hand-to-hand combat is helpful, but not so much when leading a nation and planning its defense. Ponder for a moment what little thinking goes on when people are shouting at each other.
Fear is normal. What makes for success—and great leaders—is how we handle it. The defining question is, what do we do with our fear?
Being cool, calm, collected and measured go hand in hand with being intrepid and resolute in our defense.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
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