Rejoicing at Bin Laden’s Death

The murderous Osama Bin Laden is dead. Our nation is happy to hear the news. The good feeling has two distinct qualities. Some of us feel relief that he’s finally out of the picture. Others are jubilant and celebrating wildly. What’s the difference?

On one hand, there is the sense of relief, a feeling of completion. A source of fear has been snuffed out. Bin Laden can never incite violence again. He can’t kill any more people or inspire others to murder. He can’t spread the demented message of the fundamentalist that it is OK to glorify murder as an extension of religion, and that God intends it to be that way.

This sense of relief feels as though justice has been done, so we can turn the page. It provides some measure of closure. The imbalance that he committed murder and got away with it has been restored to balance. The terrible cost he extracted from our nation has, in a sense, been repaid. As with many crimes, nothing can undo to original damage nor restore the lives lost on that ghastly day. Yet, our sense of justice is completed by the death of this man. We are able to leave the past behind and move on.

The other emotion, the one behind the most highly charged public celebrations, is more about revenge. Unlike the feeling of completion and wholeness associated with the restoration of balance, revenge is based in anger. We were horribly victimized by this man; it made us angry and we are determined to hold onto our anger. Anger always has this quality of being a victim. It’s the held anger that spawns first the desire for revenge and later the tumultuous celebration once that revenge has been achieved.

Yet, in the course of trying to live a good life, there is a downside to held anger and the pursuit of revenge. It costs too much. People who are prone to revenge feel angry too easily and too often. They tend to feel victimized on a regular basis. They spend more of their lives in anger and devote more of their precious attention to imagining or seeking vengeance. As the anger-and-revenge response hardens into habit, it consumes more and more vital energy. Though it may feel good in the short term because of the adrenaline rush, over the long haul the habit of anger undermines emotional health.

Which kind of feelings apply to you? Do you seek justice so that you can release the past and turn your attention forward? Or do you hold onto anger and dream of getting revenge against those who have hurt you? Chances are you generally do one or the other. The difference between world events and your own personal life here is a matter of scale.

In the long run, you’ll be healthier emotionally if you can leave the past behind and look to the future. Release anger as soon as you can. Forget about revenge. Move forward with your life.

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