I stumbled upon this TEDTalk by Zak Ebrahim. His father helped plan the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. That was the year I graduated from high school and started college as a young and naive adult. I remember feeling fear rise in me, along with hatred for whomever was behind the attack. Then, only two years later, the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, and I felt the ugliness taking over me once again.
Going through art school, and soon into my first job as a graphic designer, I mostly tried to bury my underlying anxiety and feelings of vengefulness. I often thought,
How dare they.
How dare these violent good-for-nothings ruin my sense of peace and hope for the future.
How dare they make ME feel this way!
Pretty soon, I was able to watch the media gather in front of the federal courthouse in Denver for Timothy McVeigh’s trial. I could see it all from my office window. Again, it all felt like a major encroachment on me. Every day during the trial, I feared I might die as a result of a new bombing by one of McVeigh’s buddies. The building I worked in was right across the street from the courthouse.
I felt anger. Paranoia gripped me. And I was starting to hate the human race. But I really tried to look happy and normal. I’m thankful everyday that I got to work side-by-side with my best friend. His humor cut through the darkness and helped me always have at least a partial view of the light so I didn’t get lost.
But I was mad at myself for feeling anything ugly at all. After growing up in a state of fear as a result of my boogeyman of a “father,” I thought I had put my paranoia behind me. I really believed I had moved on. Sadly, I realized that I still had more conditioning that needed deprogramming.
Honestly, I can’t point to just one thing that kept me from fully succumbing to all of that darkness. But if I had to pick one, it would be the unconditional love I received from my family and friends and even many shallow acquaintances. I guess I chose to pay more attention to the people in my life who demonstrated compassion and generosity than to the people I didn’t know—the “others”—who showed animosity and incivility.
Which brings me back to this TEDTalk. I am struck by Zak Ebrahim’s willingness to share his story. It resonates with me especially because of the fact that, like me, he changed his name to end his connection with his father.
But it also resonates because I think it shows just how powerful it can be when you consciously choose to let love and acceptance into your heart rather than fear and hatred. Many people on this planet might be compelled to harm others as a misguided way of trying to protect themselves, but Ebrahim’s story shows that there is a better path. And we all have the power to choose it.
As Ebrahim says in his talk:
“One day, I had a conversation with my mother about how my worldview was starting to change, and she said something to me that I will hold dear to my heart for as long as I live. She looked at me with the weary eyes of someone who had experienced enough dogmatism to last a lifetime, and said, ‘I’m tired of hating people.’ In that instant, I realized how much negative energy it takes to hold that hatred inside of you.”