Charlie Hebdo Tragedy: Bad Guys Who Were Willing to Act

Stan Goldberg, PhD

THOUGHT OF THE DAY. I wrote an article on January 6, 2015 how thoughts are theoretical unless there is a conviction to act (Selma: Why I Write About the Sharp Points of Life). As an example, I cited the civil rights students in 1965 who risked their lives for the principle of equality. I never thought two days after I published the article, an 180-degree example of evil people willing to act would occur.

Facts Vs. Beliefs

The commentaries on the murder of 12 people at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo highlighted how terrorism is either over-simplified or misunderstood. If based on Islamist principles as many assert, why are 82% of the victims Muslim? If grounded on an understanding of Islamic principles, why do leading Islamic scholars and Imams speak against it?

Even if understood as rising from justified feelings of discrimination, terrorism is evil. But just labeling it as “evil” obscures its key element: young men drawn to an ideology who are willing to ACT on evil principals.

Responses to Evil

Politicians throughout the world decry senseless killings after each attack. They often use the same words they spoke after past killings, and most likely will use when the next killings occur.

All over France and the world “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie) signs appeared, implying a commitment to the idea of free speech. But to date, only a few were willing to act on the idea: the media who reproduced the cartoons, the journalists and authors who still defy the death threats, and those who died yesterday.

The End of the Contemplative World

I think we learn more by witnessing extremes than things on the middle of a continuum. Events in the middle are often muddled; whether it’s politics, personal growth, analysis of our child’s language, or our acceptance of mortality.

It results in seeing “both sides” of an issue. We experience an unskillful act and think “Well, I can understand their viewpoint.” We try to analyze our child’s language development and we’re unsure what’s going on.

But as events become more extreme, lessons become clearer. For example, people coping with cancer probably have a better sense of what’s important in life than someone who has been healthy their entire life. The actions of a person whose Alzheimer’s has progressed, clearly shows the location of memory deficits.

Willing to Act

We no longer have the luxury of living in a contemplative world, just as the person living with a terminal disease can’t casually assess her life. In the 1700’s Edmond Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” He didn’t say “contemplate,” “think,” or “condemn.” If there is a takeaway from this horrible event, is good people need to be willing to act on beliefs whether in their personal world or social context.

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  1. Rick Herranz Sr.

    Hello Stan
    Just want to say thank you for your wisdom and insight. The idea that ” Thoughts are theoretical unless there is a conviction to act” . That quote is filled with TRUTH and deeper wisdom that many fail to see. Thanks friend for being a light for me .

    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks Rick for your kind words. I find it unfortunate that the events of last week (and I’m afraid future weeks) will test the importance of action more than anyone will want or anticipate.

      Take Care,

  2. Ken

    “If there is a takeaway from this horrible event, is good people need to be willing to act on beliefs whether in their personal world or social context.” Not sure about this, Stan. The extremist in any religion think, I suspect, of themselves as “good people” doing what is the “righteous” thing. My take away from this is how much all of the stereotypical groups/communities have internal work to do about taking a serious look at their beliefs and how they express them. That includes Christians, Jews, Gays, politicians, lawyers, health care professionals, blacks, Muslims, etc. Each of them have created for themselves stereotypes about who they are and what they stand for, but many times that creation belies the truth of how they express themselves.

    • Stan Goldberg

      I wish there would be time for everyone to take your very reasonable approach. But I don’t think there is. Maybe I’m overly pessimistic, but there are too many instances in human history when reflection and harsh words couldn’t stand up to bullets. Yes, we should reflect and identify why people do despicable things. But while that’s being done and think long-term, people need to have to conviction to act now.


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