The "Why" of the Boston Bombings, and What We Can Do About It
Every crisis or tragedy has its lessons. What are the lessons of the Boston bombings?
When an individual experiences a crisis or tragedy, there is often a period of self-reflection that follows. This can also occur on a national level. Sandy Hook brought attention to gun control issues. After the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh, we as a nation were asked to “look in the mirror” for the why. In that case, the desire to buy goods for the lowest possible price was identified as part of the problem.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev planted the bombs because he “hated America.” In his deluded thinking he failed to recognize that the character of the nation is not homogeneous. National character falls into a bell curve, with the extremes representing the best and the worst in us. He was lashing out at what he perceived to be the norm, or perhaps the norm of complacency of Americans toward certain public policies.
Why would people hate America? Are they attacking our values or our level of virtue? There is a difference. Virtues are the foundation of good character. Some values are virtues, but values may not always reflect virtues. For example, being of service is a virtue. Being of service to acquire the wealth to consume more resources than the planet can sustain reflects values.
Also, how is the wealth of the nation earned and spent? Enlightened wealth is wealth ethically earned and wisely used. Wealth, however earned, can cause an imbalance in humility. Arrogance arising from wealth, particularly ill-gotten wealth, is never an attractive character trait.
Good character is based on knowing the delicate balance among many virtues. For example, there is a fine line between national pride and appropriate humility. Expressing national pride in a way that makes others feel “less than” indicates lack of sensitivity to what is ultimately the unity of humanity.
Those who like Americans see our positive qualities and the good we do in the world. They accept the rest as lesson learning. We have come a long way from the “ugly American” image of the past, but there is still more to be done before the nation will command the respect of the world based on a perception of good national character in all that we do.
The character of the nation is demonstrated in more ways than can be counted. Do alcohol ads on TV glorifying its use to young people in the face of its known, often destructive effects, show something of national character? Many Americans participate in volunteer activities, but is the perception of the norm a nation obsessed with sports and entertainment above all else? Many of us attend religious services, but is that goodness seen in how we act on the other days of the week?
Politics and the conduct of business provide evidence of the national character. Whether the national ideology promotes the most ethical conduct in government and business will influence how we are perceived by the rest of the world. If foreign policy is tied to business and not peace-building, it is unlikely that you can stop people from hating Americans.
The solution to preventing future tragedies does not lie primarily in more security, more surveillance and more restrictions on freedom. It lies mainly in national self-reflection and improving where we can – individually and collectively.
It is often difficult to change the behavior of adults. No one likes to be told their character needs improving, unless they are genuinely interested in achieving excellence or are acting out of self-preservation. Without inspirational leadership, little can be done in the short term. It’s about moving the nation to a balance point that reasonably respects the views and sensitivities of others who share this interconnected planet.
There is one solution that can help ensure an improved national image in the medium to long term, and that is effective character education programs in the school systems. You can pound math and science into the minds of students, but that alone will not save the planet, either from the misuse of resources or from the tragedies arising from hatred. Good character learned in combination with academics will solve the problems facing future generations.
If Mr. Tsarnaev had perceived overall national character as high, perhaps he would not have taken such drastic steps. It is likely that a perception of lack of virtue will continue to arouse hatred. It is harder, though, to gather the internal strength, or gain recruits, to attack the virtuous.
How difficult is it to raise a child in high virtue in the United States? How difficult is it to raise an entire generation internationally with high ideals of conduct? We should devote as much attention to effective character education as we do any national or international issue. During that process, perhaps the behavior of some adults will change, particularly those with influence in the world or those who would have sought to do harm.