Iím sitting at an airport right now waiting for a flight home. Even though it has been over a month since the attacks on New York and Washington it seems to me that the airports havenít fully returned to life yet. The flights take off and land. People still travel. Everything looks the same. Sure it takes longer to get though security but really nothing looks different. People coming and going just like before. Yet things are different. The airports I have been in since September 11 are quieter than before. There still seems to be lots of people but they are talking quieter, somehow more subdued.
I suppose we shouldnít be surprised at the terrorist attacks. After all we, in our field, work everyday with people who are full of anger. There is a lot of anger in this world. I know that many of us would like to believe that the terrorists are a breed apart from the rest of us. I suppose I would like to think this myself. However, Iím not so sure we are all that different. I donít mean that most of us will walk around killing other people. I know most of us wouldnít do that even in extreme conditions. What I am talking about is that humans are capable of a range of destructive behaviours. These behaviours are on a continuum. It goes from rudeness and rejection of others to more aggressive behaviours to murder. I think it is a mistake to pretend that somehow the terrorists are different from us. They pushed their behaviour to the limit but if we want to understand them we really only have to look inside ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves most of us have known, if only for a moment, the feelings that motivate such destruction.
I donít want to push this point too far but if we want to ultimately stop acts of violence we have to accept the potential for violence in all of us. For too long too many of us have tried to separate ourselves from the perpetrators of violence who are in our midst. This separation serves to isolate those who need the most to be brought closer to people. By isolating them rather than trying to integrate them we only increase the likelihood of further violence. Iím not talking here of not holding people responsible for their actions. Nor am I talking about letting perpetrators of violence run amok in our midst. The point I trying to make is that we need to rethink how we deal with people who are feeling marginalized in our world. We have, for too long, marginalized the very people who most need to be embraced and welcomed fully into the human world.
I donít know if this is possible with adults. It may be that by the time you are an adult you have become too fixed in your ways to accept acceptance. I donít think this is the case but may be it isnít possible. However, I know it is possible with kids. They can be embraced and yet so often we donít do it even when we have the chance. Look at our own field. How often have we discharged young people from residential programs because they have become too hard to handle. Sometimes this is really the case. They are too hard for us to handle. Still, how many of us have really meant that they are too much of a pain in the butt for us to handle? I have seen this too often to believe that it doesnít happen a lot regardless of the rationale we have for discharging them. How many times do we kick people out of programs for displaying the very behaviour that got them admitted in the first place? We do this even though we are supposed to be the ones who care the most about marginalized kids.
Every time we do this we potentially add to the pool of anger in the world. Every time we do this we are potentially adding another brick in the building of tomorrowís terrorists. If we want to stop terrorism in the long run we have to decrease the amount of anger there is in the world. One of the ways we can do this, in our own work world, is to hang onto, if only for a short time longer than we want to, those kids who cause us the most grief. These are the ones who most need our embrace. This can be our contribution to stopping terrorism.