What Are We Teaching Our Kids With Our Reactions to Osama bin Laden’s Death?

I know there’s already been a lot written in response to Osama bin Laden’s death on May 1, but something about it all left me feeling discombobulated since I first read the news (on Twitter). After listening to President Obama’s speech and seeing the celebrations and reactions on Twitter and Facebook that ensued, I felt even more ill at ease and I’m hoping to finally articulate my thoughts.

Justice, not Vengeance

I understand feeling a sense of relief that bin Laden is no longer able to kill innocent people. I understand a need for quiet reflection. I understand feeling a sense of justice. What I don’t understand is crowds of people chanting “USA! USA!” like they are at some kind of sporting event, encouraging your children to wave signs celebrating someone’s death or all of the Tweets and Facebook statuses from people with vengeance coursing through their veins. It disturbed me. What are we teaching our children?

Yes, bin Laden did atrocious things in his life, but by cheering and celebrating his death, are we not stooping to a new low? I admit I did not personally know anyone killed in the 9-11 attacks, so it’s entirely possible that my somber reaction to the news is different than those personally affected. Still, it just doesn’t feel right.

David Sirota of Salon.com has this to say:

This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.

…our reaction to the news … should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.

When we lose the sadness part — when all we do is happily scream “USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war — it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.

Talking to Kids About Osama bin Laden

What are we teaching our children when we celebrate the death of another human being? Here are a few different thoughts on how to talk to (or not talk to) your children about Osama bin Laden.

  • Annie at PhD in Parenting chose not to talk to her kids about it: Kids and Osama bin Laden
    “Talking to my kids about history is important. Teaching them about diversity and injustices and privilege is important. But purposely opening this particular can of worms and then scaring them by not being able to answer their questions is not something I want to do right now.”
  • Melissa Ford at Stirrup Queens chose to talk to her twins about bin Laden before they heard about it from someone else: Talking to Kids about Osama bin Laden
  • Jenny Lind Schmitt at Psychology Today talked to her kids about it too, hung up an American flag in the house and talked about honoring all of the people that died on 9/11 and since as a result of bin Laden: Osama bin Laden’s Death: What It Means to Kids
  • From Dane Laverty at Times and Seasons: Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, and the Kids Eat Corn Pops
    “My hope, however, is that it [bin Laden’s death] will serve as a reminder to us that we can be grateful to have the luxury of dealing with the kinds of inconveniences we face here in America, to remind us that early morning seminary and burned cookies are blessings, because they mean that we’re not facing ideological repression and physical starvation.”
  • From Danielle Sullivan at Babble: Kids Cheer In NYC Over Osama Bin Laden’s Death
    “Isn’t celebrating a death the very opposite of what we should do as parents and Americans? I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t feel satisfied or even proud that our country stood up for those who were senselessly killed, but we shouldn’t make it a party, don our kids in hate-filled t-shirts and light fireworks (as they did in my neighborhood).”

As for my kids, I haven’t seen any reason to talk to them about bin Laden at this point. As far as I know, they’ve never heard of him and at ages 4 and 6, I don’t feel like there’s anything they need to know right now. We’ll save that history lesson for when they are older.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

There’s a quote that’s been circulating wildly after bin Laden’s death that was misattributed to Martin Luther King Jr., but is now correctly being credited to Jessica Dovey.

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. — Jessica Dovey

That spoke to me, as it did to so many other people who reposted it on the ‘net causing it to go viral. And it’s so much more eloquent than anything I could come up with myself.

Martin Luther King Jr. has also said several things that really speak to this week’s events. I’ll just share this one.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil —
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars —
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength To Love, 1963

I wish I had some tidy little paragraph to wrap this all up, but I don’t. I only hope and pray that the darkness of our world begins to subside little by little and the love and light shine through. Peace.

Photo credits: Flickr, Josh Pesavento and L.C.Nøttaasen

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