It's been a week since the attack in Paris, and the #1 topic in my online circles, and at my dining table too, is still the response to terrorism. It is uppermost in everyone's minds, because obviously you can't just pretend it isn't happening, but moreover, the sane people are having to invest a lot of time and effort into calming down those who think the sky is falling. Everybody has friends and relatives who are so worried about terrorists that they are saying silly things. Really, the big deal for us ordinary mortals is not so much "how to deal with terrorists", that's not our problem. We have the associated problem of "how to deal with people who are irrationally afraid of terrorists".
Yes, I said irrationally. Living outside of the middle east, the risk of being killed by a terrorist is so small it's not even worth worrying about. That's the reality of the situation. Every day all of us do things that risk our lives. Statistically you are more likely to choke on your lunch than be killed by a terrorist. That is a mathematical fact. I could list hundreds more examples. Even if you live in a major city, where most terrorist attacks occur, you would really have to draw the short straw to be in that "wrong place, wrong time" situation. The risk is so small that your fears are actually ridiculous.
But humans are strange. Our fears are frequently not logical. And people who are already living in fear for other reasons will latch onto more fear, because that's how minds work. They become overwhelmed and it's easy for more fear to creep in. This is not helped by those who deliberately spread fear, and use it as a tool for their own gains.
I'll tell you what I fear, right now, and that is fascism. Fascism is a response to fear, but also an excuse to spread fear. It's a bit of a chicken and egg at this point, because it's a spiral down. Even so, you only buy into fascism if you are very fearful. The protection against it is that age old mixture of logic and compassion - wisdom. Fascists are never wise. They are often cunning, not actually stupid, but they are never wise.
If you are afraid, right now, it's OK to admit it. It's OK to say "it feels like the world is on the brink of something, and it scares me". In many ways, it should. There is potential, right now, for great things or terrible things.
This has happened before. We get past it. We will again. But that's no comfort if you are right in the middle of it.
So how to deal with it?
I suggest, first of all, that you make a decision, and you commit to an ethical approach to all that you say and do. If that sounds like I'm stating the obvious, it has clearly been missed by many. Teach by example. Stay calm when you discuss things. Don't call people names just because they don't agree with you, even if they call you names. The ad hominem derails a conversation, but you can get it right back on track by ignoring it and not retaliating. Take the high road, and stay on topic. When you read or hear words that are harsh or cruel, and there is a tone of anger, recognise this as fear. A barking dog, no more and no less.
Don't be arrogant. Perhaps you know far more about the history and the politics behind the issue than the person raving at you. Don't talk down to them because of that. Accept that they are at a disadvantage, and that ignorance leads to fear. They will not listen to you if you take on a superior air. They'll simply tune you out. Education is the key, but it has to be offered in such a way that the listener doesn't feel belittled by your presentation.
Don't hate the haters. If you need to avoid them, do so. If their hatred is so great that it feels like a poison, then distance yourself from them, by all means. But don't hate them.
Don't even hate the terrorists. Yes, I'm perfectly serious. These are damaged people. You do not become a terrorist having had a happy life. Something has happened in the minds of these people that has driven them over the edge. It is impossible for most of us to understand. But there's something else. The vast majority of members of DAESH (the organisation that wants to be called The Islamic State) and other organisations such as Boko Haram, etc., have been born and raised without ever knowing love and peace. Think about that. Think how bloody awful that must be.
It doesn't excuse it, and I do not forgive them. But it has messed with their heads, and it has turned them into the perfect soldier. Nothing to lose.
Pity them, because our lives are absolute bliss by comparison. These are the dogs that the pounds put down, because they can never be rehabilitated. You can't negotiate with them, you can't reason with them.
But you can reason with those who are afraid of them. It isn't easy, but it's not impossible. And we must. We cannot let those who live in fear be sucked in by those who would take advantage of their fears, such as Donald Trump or Paul Golding. They don't see that the danger of fascism far exceeds the danger of terrorism, and we aren't going to teach them with anger and hate.
There are plenty who would sneer at any suggestion that we cannot defeat extremism with love and peace, but actually it is the only thing that defeats it. It doesn't mean "hug a terrorist" (although I'm willing to give it a try) - it means spreading the love and peace among the masses, the ordinary people, to counter the fear, and to send a message to our governments that we want them to proceed with caution. Above all, teach your children well.