How to Deal With Fear and Anger After a Terrorist Attack

The pictures are surreal even as the aftermath is gruesome. Three youths nonchalantly pushing airport luggage carts, calm and composed as they stare into middle distance.

And there are scenes of horrific destruction with dismembered bodies and weeping relatives after the suitcases on the carts exploded.

The incidents happen more frequently and countries that prided themselves as havens of tranquility find that the world outside cannot be kept out and intrudes noisily.

An elderly man, a war veteran, was choleric as he raged against ‘these beasts’ and bemoaned that he was too old to bear arms once again. When someone suggested that he feel compassion for all who had lost their lives including those who caused the mayhem, he foamed at the mouth. “I don’t want to feel compassion,” he screamed, “I want to (expletive deleted) them!”

He had a lot more to say about the ‘misguided’ idiots who refused to recognize the danger we were all in and wasted sympathy on terrorists. Many in earshot nodded in agreement.

We feel righteous. We have done nothing ‘wrong’, or at least nothing that calls for the level of wanton bloodletting that we witness. We need to stamp out this evil using overwhelming force if necessary.

Fear is rampant. Fear that our loved ones and we may no longer be safe. That our way of life and our personal safety are both threatened. Anger is close behind. And a thirst for revenge that grows daily, fed by opportunistic politicians.

When emotions run high is precisely the time to step back and act with cool reason rather than impetuous reaction.

How does one cope with fear and anger?

There are several steps you can take. Some you take personally and some as an advocate for the society you would like to be a part of.

1) Recognize that a great deal of the angst you feel is misplaced. Yes, horrible things have happened but you are still more likely to die in an automobile accident or by slipping in the bath tub than in a terrorist incident. The numbers in a particular incident seem large but the totals are insignificant. Insignificant in numbers only-not in meaning.

2) Media feasts on carnage and disproportionate coverage is more titillating porn than news. Do not let talking heads tell you what to think about and how to think about what is relentlessly put in front of you.

3) Feel compassion for all who lost their lives. Even those who perpetrated the disasters.

Many will push back on this instinctively like the red-faced veteran. They will label you a ‘pacifist’ and invite you to come to the ‘real world’.

So let me clarify.

First, when you react with compassion, you do not do this for the terrorist. You do this for YOU.

The toxins of anger and attendant side effects on blood pressure and heart do your body much harm. Paroxysms of rage can, literally, kill you.

Second, having compassion does not mean that you flinch from doing what must be done. It simply means that you do it while occupying an emotional domain of calm rather than hate or revenge.

Consider this scenario: You have a dog, one that your entire family loves. The dog has grown up in your house and is a beloved pet. Every one of your children has played with and has fond memories of him.

But then one day your dog wanders into the wild and is bitten by a raccoon. He snaps at your children and you realize he is rabid.

What do you do?

You put him down, of course, because he has become a grave threat to your family. But there is no exultation. You do it with sorrow and respect and grieve that you have to do so.

The very existence of terrorists means that, at some level, we have failed as a species. We have permitted anger and hate to germinate and grow to such proportions that multiple individuals are ready for wanton violence and cruelty.

Can they be redeemed? Who knows? Should they be put down because the destruction they can cause is so terrible? Perhaps. But if so, let it be with the same sorrow and respect with which you put down a beloved pet.

You do not flinch and you do not rejoice. You just do what you feel needs to be done. It is not appropriate to revel. That would be playing their game.

No matter what they do, if you react with venom and try to exact retribution, you begin playing their game.

Do not do this.

Instead, play your own.