When the news quickly spread that the elusive Osama bin Laden had been killed, many people expressed unbridled jubilation. The man, almost mythical in his ability to stay in hiding for so long despite a prolific manhunt to catch him dead or alive, had been extinguished. Who knows why he wasn’t captured and brought to a military tribunal instead of killed, but for many of us normally rational thinkers, his death and our first reaction of shocked happiness was really a feeling of instant justice for the 2,976 victims who were going about their day as usual on that fateful Tuesday morning in 2001 when they were murdered because of his hand. This is not to mention the many other evils bin Laden master minded in the years leading up to 9/11.
When cooler, more logical thinking prevailed though, many of us looked at our innocent children, my oldest not even born until 2002, and remembered they can’t and don’t grasp the evil this one man inflicted on the world. How could they? And how could they understand many people’s giddiness at seeing him dead? Just as quickly, I saw a swell in Facebook posts and family members’ comments that we shouldn’t celebrate someone else’s death, even if that someone was Osama bin Laden.
I see this dilemma as a chance for parents to talk with their children and explain two lessons from this story that will resonate with even a five-year-old:
#1. Even though most people are good, there are real evil people in the world, not just the villains they see in the Disney movies. There are some people who want to hurt other people because they don’t like their religion, or where they live, or for many other silly reasons. Why this country was founded would be another interesting segue.
#2. We need to treat others the way we want to be treated. The saying and origin of “an eye for an eye” can be explained, even if each family doesn’t agree with it in principle. If they don’t agree with it that should be explained too. In our household it’s not much of a stretch from what we’ve told them time and again: “You’d better not start it, but if someone hits you, you have my permission to hit them back.” If people hurt or kill others, striking first as bin Laden did, there has to be consequences. Kids see the same laws applied to a lesser degree on the playground every day. They inherently get it if we break it down to a level they understand.