I am always curious to understand why people make the choices they do and why as groups humans respond to problems and challenges in a certain way. Again and again, I observe people trying to blame their issues on something or someone outside of personal or collective self. We all want to belong. We all want to be able to take pride in who we are and to be recognized by our social group for our accomplishments and for the actual value of our unique being. In itself, this entirely human desire is overflowing with contradictions. Can we be truly original and also deeply feel the need to be accepted by a group which most likely may reject us if we look or behave a certain way that is not considered acceptable?
Contemporary life gives us many choices, and this new flexibility can benefit many people. It also creates much solitude and confusion. The court of public opinion reigns over our economic, political, and judicial systems. Leadership becomes very precarious in this system, because few have the courage to purposefully risk losing the support of polls or voters. More often than not, perfectly well-adjusted internet users and not just trolls now have the power to destabilize verdicts in important court cases and decisions about social evolution. Sometimes this is a good thing, but ultimately those who can make or break a reputation rarely take personal responsibility for their voice.
What’s more, politicians and power mongers also court public opinion, which makes them poor leaders. Leadership requires strength, integrity, and the courage to go against the tide when necessary. My question for this post is the following: Why are many young people finding extremist religious groups in foreign countries attractive? What exactly are they seeking that is missing in their lives in countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Australia, the United States?
My thoughts have lead me to this possible response to this important question. I believe that we lack the leadership, heroic and noble role models who do not see life in simplistic black and white terms. In addition to this, we, as parents, have to model complex empathic behavior and to teach compassion and curiosity and tolerance of others to our children from a very young age. So many well meaning parents nowadays allow their children extensive access to the internet without having any idea what sorts of information these children are accessing. Are they taking the time to share dialogue about ideas, politics, society, human relationships, philosophy with their children?
Adolescence is a time of life where we are full of hope and fear, as well as idealism. Kids need to know that the adults helping to raise them are concerned not just by paying bills or buying material things. They need to know what we believe in and what we stand for. I feel that the despotic terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, Boko Haram, or Al-Shabaab are attracting young people from around the world because although their mode of functioning is brutal, intolerant, and hateful, they propose an ideal that appears noble and heroic to many youths. Their way of being is simple and removes many of the complex choices, focus on materialism, and cultural ambiguities in Western cultures that do not help an idealistic teen find the way to his or her heart and soul.
In order to “fight terrorism”, we need to become more aware of the messages we send to our kids in our own cultures. There is a lot of ugliness in capitalism – selfishness, corporate greed, destruction of the environment, narcissistic focus on celebrities and their lifestyle, extensive obsession with externals such as physical appearance and material wealth. Perhaps if we look inward and focus more on the values of true relationship, kindness, compassion, stewardship of our earth and building community, tolerance of differences and preparing a better world for future generations, our kids will want to invest their talents at home and not squander them by seeking a sense of purpose and belonging in and to fundamentalist death squads.