A Lesson from Terrorism: Violence and The Grayness of Life

Stan Goldberg, PhD

THOUGHT OF THE DAY. Each day’s new violence makes people want to retreat into a 1950’s bomb shelter, or buy a home in a gated and guarded community, or hide in a shack in a remote part of the woods.

Of course, we need to buy a gun—preferably an AK47 or Bazooka—and ready ourselves to blast any intruder who dares step onto our property, no less cross the threshold of our castle. And as a backup strategy, we’ll do what we have always been doing.

The Stupidity of Repeating Our History

That formula—repeating our history—is something that endlessly brings about cycles of violence, suppression, and revenge. It’s a way of functioning that led to the 30 year war between the Hatfields and McCoys.

Why is it that our approach to combating violence hasn’t gone beyond the strategy of two illiterate families living in the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky more than 150 years ago? The answer may be that it’s ingrained in our daily living patterns.

Terrorism: A Gray World

We believe we live in a black and white world where “good” stands against “evil,” “right” can always be distinguished from “wrong” as in John Wayne movies, and where what I believe makes more sense than what you believe.

It’s a prescription for an endless cycle of conflict. Someone experiences an injustice and then acts in a brutal way. Their actions are met with force and the cycle continues until one group is incapacitated or killed—as in World War I, when men were sacrificed until few were left to die.

A Lesson for Our Daily Lives: The Difference Between Understanding and Acceptance

I see the neglect of history in my counseling where a significant event is treated as if it was immaculately conceived in a vacuum. Adult children who only want the best for an aging parent don’t understand their parent’s anger when treated as a child. Grade school teachers who haven’t changed the content of their course in twenty years, react to the boredom of students by requiring detention. Husbands who emotionally haven’t been available to their wives for years can’t forgive their wife’s infidelity.

Understanding the history of an event doesn’t make it acceptable, but it does provide guidelines for how to stop the cycle. For example, while forcefully going after the terrorists in Europe, discussions are beginning that examine not only what generated the atrocities, but also what can be done to stop the cycle. While vowing to imprison or kill the current terrorists, some European leaders are also proposing ways of integrating Moslem communities while respecting their uniqueness.

We have been lucky so far in the United States. But I have no doubt our time of anguish will come. And then we’ll be faced with the same choices as the Europeans: Mindlessly scream vengeance as the neo-Nazi party in Germany and our own Ted Cruz does, or protect our citizens as responsible leaders are doing in Europe while searching for ways of interrupting the cycle.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


  1. Barb

    Thank you so much for saying this. It is very difficult to criticize US “fighting for freedom” or our military operations publicly or even in private. Our drones, bombing and occupation of middle eastern countries to me are equally terroristic acts.

    • Stan Goldberg

      In conflicts there rarely are clean hands


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