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The way to fight terror is to rebuild from within
September 13th, 2002
By Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D.
Pittsburgh The terrorist attack of last Sept. 11 was only the second time in U.S. history that war and mass destruction by an enemy were brought to our midst. Our sense of invincibility was shattered. Although we take great pride in how the tragedy was handled and the numerous heroes that emerged, our security was breached and our national self-esteem has suffered.
Much as we like to think that life has returned to normal, that it is not quite so. Many people are still afraid to fly. Those who do fly may be thoroughly searched. The other day I forgot to take my laptop from the security checkpoint. When I returned to retrieve it, several soldiers were surrounding it, and had I not appeared at that moment, they would have called the bomb squad. Many major public events require participants to pass through metal detectors. Life has certainly changed. We are all on edge.
It is interesting to note that the mind and body react alike in one way called the recall phenomenon. During the first year of life, an infant is immunized against tetanus. If you do a blood test shortly thereafter, you will find a plethora of tetanus antibodies. These gradually fade. At age 15, hardly a trace of these antibodies remains in the teens blood.
Then, the person sustains a wound. Remember, he has no tetanus antibodies. He is given the same tetanus dose he received as an infant, and an outpouring of tetanus antibodies occurs. The body remembers.
After 9/11, national and personal anxiety soared, only to fade like the antibodies. If anything occurs to stimulate the mind, the anxiety will recur, sometimes with great intensity. A serious alert, a terrorist threat or attack, or even just the date may stimulate anxiety. For example, airline reservations for 9/11 this year were very low.
This is the story of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Even though our anxiety has subsided, we are extremely vulnerable to recurrence, acting out with either phobic or counterphobic symptoms.
Because of this, just as a patient who suffers paralysis of a limb must undergo physical rehabilitation to restore its function, we must undergo psychological rehabilitation. We must indeed adjust to all precautionary security measures, but we should not let them take the joy out of life.
Many people who have suffered physical limitations have fought back to live a normal life under their new circumstances. So must we.
Strength in togetherness
People who are religiously inclined should take greater interest in their religion. Faith is a powerful source of strength.
There is also strength in togetherness. The fragmentation of our society by religion, race and socioeconomic status is a luxury we can no longer afford. Benjamin Franklins statement regarding the War of Independence is timely: Either we all hang together, or we all hang separately.
We have undoubtedly suffered a setback in our self-esteem. People who have been assaulted or molested often feel a sense of shame, which is without any logical grounds. Why should the victim rather than the perpetrator lose self-esteem?
Self-esteem comprises two components: competence and worthiness. Our competence has indeed come under question with the revelation that warning signs about 9/11 were overlooked. This we can correct by increasing our national security intelligence network and state of alertness.
We should also do something to enhance our feeling of worthiness. The level of morality and ethics in the United States is hardly exemplary. People in the highest public offices and business roles have been less than heroic.
One component of worthiness that we can improve is reducing violence within our society. If we really wish to elevate our self-esteem by increasing our feeling of worthiness, we should address this issue seriously instead of giving it lip service. America must re-assess its own values.
Many studies have proven that violence on TV breeds violence. Perhaps the First Amendment precludes censorship, but the networks show what the public wants to watch. If we are serious about reducing violence, boycotting these provocative shows will get them off the air, as their ratings will drop. Boycotting products that sponsor these shows is also effective.
Some violence may be the result of discontent. Some people have gripes but have no avenue to express them. No one is there to listen.
Establishing a national service, staffed by volunteers who listen to gripes and complaints, could prove valuable. In many instances, a problem may not be solvable. However, as any psychotherapist will testify, just listening to a person is therapeutic.
We could open Got a Gripe? offices in every community. Many retired people would probably volunteer their time. Though they would only have to listen, every so often, a volunteer might be able to suggest a solution. A web site can be created to deal with Frequent Gripes.
This does not have to cost much money and shouldnt create a government bureaucracy. But it could help eliminate some of the violence perpetrated by disgruntled people.
As victims of violence, our efforts to reduce the violence in our midst might elevate our self-esteem. The way to fight back is to rebuild from within.
Milwaukee native Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski is a psychiatrist and founder of Gateway Rehabilitation Clinic in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. He has recently launched a new 12-step program for self-esteem development, www.12steps2selfesteem.com.