Do you know a closet terrorist?
Like most of you, I remember where I was on 9/11. That was nineteen years and (for my family) two houses ago. I think my jaw was on the floor for most of it. I’d never expected to see something like that in my lifetime, although looking back, I guess I had no particular reason for thinking that way. Even though that was almost two decades ago now, it's still a fairly sensitive topic. It wounded us, and you can still see the scar.
So why am I asking if you know any closet terrorists? That’s a big word to throw around, and it’s not like I’m expecting any of you to be smuggling bombs or commandeering planes! But there is a pattern of behavior that I know is pretty common among all sorts of people, and which has almost the same dictionary definition as terrorism. Worth taking a moment to question yourself, wouldn’t you say?
I’ve seen a whole lot of abuse in my career. The statistics on this sort of thing are pretty powerful: 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been the victims of physical abuse. When you look at emotional abuse, it gets even worse—2 in 3 women and 3 in 4 men. That means that out of all your family, all your friends, all the people you pass on the street, or who hand you your food at the drive-thru, the clear majority of them have suffered some kind of abuse.
The dictionary definition I found of terrorism is, “to treat with cruelty or violence to obtain an objective.” Actually, that’s a lie. I just gave you the definition of abuse. The real definition of terrorism is, “the unlawful or harmful use of force or violence to coerce in order to obtain an objective.” Not much difference, is there? The one for abuse doesn’t specify “unlawful,” but most types of physical abuse, at the very least, certainly are against the law. It seems to me that the biggest difference between them is an implied difference of scale. You abuse a person, but the target of terrorism is usually a country or a religion, or some other group. But the heart of the two acts is pretty clearly the same.
Ancient manuscripts drew comparisons like this one all the time. It wasn’t unusual to see something we would think of as a very minor flaw, like a tendency to gossip, listed in the same sentence as murder with no special emphasis to separate them! The point was that the internal state could be the same, even when the results were monumentally different. It’s all about what is in your heart.
Moreover, it is becoming more and more clear what a difference our internal state really makes. A person who feels bad about themselves is more likely to fail, more likely to get sick, and more likely to die earlier! In other words, emotional abuse is really physical too! It just takes longer. I said earlier that most of the people we meet have been abused in some way. What makes the problem even worse is that most of them never seek help for it, and usually, these people go on to abuse others themselves. It’s sort of like a disease that way.
The first step to curing it is self-awareness, and the best way I know is to ask yourself some simple questions. Do you often find yourself feeling strong emotions in the “anger” family? Things like bitterness, regret, a feeling of being overwhelmed, etc. Most importantly, do you frequently act negatively toward others? The latest research indicates that people (especially children) ideally need ten positive interactions to every one negative interaction. But most of the time, they get more negative than positive. Kindness makes a difference—it literally makes us healthier.
This week, ask yourself what’s in your heart.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
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