Martin Farrell: Assert civil society by looking a terrorist squarely in the eye

Civil words and actions could have a powerful impact on those who attack what we hold dear, writes our columnist

Martin Farrell
Martin Farrell

Some people who read this might have been affected personally by violent terrorist acts. This piece is not primarily for them but is instead for those of us who ingest a daily media diet of human degradation, delivered by people whose notion of civil society is a million miles away from ours.

Within minutes of an attack, it hits us. We take it in for days as the blast reverberates around media channels. It offends life and our notion of what it is to be civil in society.

"Some viewers might find these images distressing," we are told. Yes, we do. And each of us reacts in our habitual way - we have been hit before and we have reacted before. We are fearful. We might die a little bit inside, we might freeze. We might determine to hit back, to get even. We might bury our heads in sorrow, or in our work.

Terror attacks the heart of civility in society and presents us with a challenge and a choice. We can respond without thinking, or we can pause and then respond in a new way - we look our habits in the eye. You can choose. I can choose.

My choice is to determine to fight back by ever more powerfully asserting the values of a civil society in all my daily dealings - in my next meeting, in my next email, in my next phone call, not just when it's easy, but especially when it's hard. Especially then. By my words and actions I look the terrorist - whom I imagine I will never meet - in the eye. And so I fight terror, inside and outside.

That's my choice. And yours? Stop. Stop some more. Think. Then imagine all of us in civil society practising the best of ourselves every day - not out of fanciful sentimentality, but as a practical stratagem to live out the heart of civility.

Imagine the impact of our civil words and actions on those close to us. Imagine too the impact that our collective assertion of the heart of civil society could have on those who attack what we hold dear. I choose; you choose. Let's look our habits - and terror - in the eye and assert the power of civil society.

Martin Farrell, an international facilitator and crisis coach at

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