Child death, Culture, death, emotions, grief, parenting, Personal Growth, Relationships, Saudi Arabia, Women

The Club I Never Wanted to Join

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There are those clubs in life that we join with enthusiasm, that is within our control and decision, that we decide to engage because it coincides with our interests, our hobbies, passions, joys, and identity.  Although life’s path indoctrinates us into other clubs or groups that we never sought membership for, but we received a lifetime membership that usually involves emotional fees instead of monetary fees.  Almost one  year ago, I received one of those unsolicited lifetime memberships to the Mother of Dead Children when I delivered my full term 38 week old stillborn son, Mr. Baby (aka Mohammad Hatem Mominah).   A membership card I have tried to burn, to throw away, and return to sender, but the damn gold status membership card keeps finding its way back into my hand of cards.  This unsolicited club membership likes me to invest my emotions, my cognitive energy, my time, my sleep, my lack of sleep, and at times, my sanity.   While the members of this club experience some of the same initiations, each club member also gets specialized individualized treatment dependent on their own story, their personal characteristics of the card member, but most of us get to pay the yearly premium of guilt, blame, and sadness.

There are no rules and regulations of expected behavior of carrying this card from the membership itself, but people that have not gained membership to this club have developed stereotypes of how you should “be” and what is acceptable to say to you or not say to you.  I have perfected the art of listening, and composing a smile, or at least a blank expression, but I also have a ticker tape that silently runs through my mind, that if ever was exposed, could unleash a nasty sarcastic spew of my inner coping.  As a member of this club, I have gathered support and understanding from other gold card carrying members, but those outside that club, that have never experienced what it means to lose a child, will offer their own advice of how you can be a gold star performing card carrying member.  While every parent that has lost a child has a different way of coping, my own inner dialogue, which I long ago nicknamed as my “ticker tape” has at times ran rampant in my mind in response to messages  to what others have said to me in the past year.

  1. You should be grateful that you have other children.  Yes I am selfish and ungrateful…. (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  2. You need to get over it and move on.   I am weak and sorry I have those days that I secretly wish that I could have crawled into the grave with my child….(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  3. God never gives you more than you can handle.  Really?  Ummmm….because I am about one second away of letting you see on display what falling apart looks like.….(guilt)What  is wrong with me?
  4. Far worse things have happened to other people, you  should be grateful.  Yes far worse things have happened….I did not gain membership to compare my experience with tragedies of the rest of the world.  Yeah I get that far more horrible things have happened in the world, but thank you  for your insight and wisdom, but it still doesn’t change how I feel….(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  5. Say “Thanks God” or “Al Humdallah”. I have never been one to do or say things unless I really feel that way, and  maybe I am an ungrateful,  selfish person, because I am not grateful for carrying a child for 9.5 months to hand that child over to be buried in the desert’s sand.  I am not grateful to get this unsolicited membership card……Sorry if this upsets your world view, and doesn’t coincide with your perceptions….I will not say something that I do not mean, because I do not view this as a will of God…this was because of medical human error,  my own screwed up body, my own inability to deal with stress, and because I was too physically and mentally exhausted to stand up to the voices that said a C-section could wait for a couple more days,  even though I knew it couldn’t.   I am not in the mood to make you feel better…because I feel like shit.   If it makes you feel better, please say it, but do not say it to me, and do not expect me to say it.  Special note to medical professionals….please shut up and do not even have the audacity to mention this to me…. (guilt) What  is wrong with me?
  6. At least you are still alive and here.  Really?  That could be questionable on a moment by moment basis…..(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  7. Maybe it was for the best, maybe there was something wrong with him. A doctor examined him, there was nothing wrong with him visibly, although I would not allow the hospital to dissect his little body.  Even if there was something wrong with him.  I just wanted the chance to look into his eyes…even for just a little bit.  I wanted that baby,  even if there had been issues…. (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  8. You are not the only person to lose a child.  I know that, and do you think that I don’t’ realize already that I am not handling this with grace …Do you really think that if I could I wouldn’t stand up  and be this fortress of strength? (guilt)  What is wrong with me?
  9. At least you never had the chance to get emotionally attached…it is better that he died before you had the chance to know him. Please fuck off because I did know him.  I carried him for 38 weeks… you have no idea…… (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  10. You gave yourself black eyes/ bad luck because you were so happy to have the baby.  Your statements are more of a reflection of your black  heart and how you view others as well as how you view yourself… Please…could you just please shoot me and get your freaking torture over with.  I was happy to be expecting a child…and you stand before me and say that it is my fault that I made other’s jealous……really….this is just too much….while you may think it, and that is your right….really shut the fuck up.  Trust me….I have enough guilt for not standing up to doctors, changing physicians, or dealing with stress effectively…I don’t need your negative energy to add to my black world right now.  Bad things happen in life, and death is one of the inevitable truths of our existence.   (guilt) What is wrong with me?

The only real benefit that I believe I have gained from my membership, is the right to say “Please consider what you say to someone that has lost their child”.  I know the intentions are there to try to comfort the person, but each person deals with loss and grief in their own way.  I apologize in advance to anyone that I have offended by my honesty and language, that is not my intention, but to provide an insight into the grief of one mother on a year long journey of coming to terms with the death of her child.   Entering the private thoughts of another is one way to understand a situation and have some empathy.  I am sure that in the past that I have unintentionally made statement in regards to someone’s life events that were not helpful.  This experience has taught me that sometimes words unspoken are best.  No one can tell a the person what they should feel, or how they should behave when faced with death.   Sometimes the well intentioned comments only add to feelings of guilt, sadness, selfishness, and unfairness experienced by those grieving.  What you can do…sit quietly, listen, and understand that person will never be the same in some ways.  Yes they will learn to smile again, they will learn how to live again, they will learn to breathe….but it is in their time, and in their way.  Grief is a path that each person travels differently and it is not a path that can be magically fixed.

Happy Birthday Mr. Baby.  You earned  your angel wings  before you ever had to  breathe  in the experiences of the harsh realities of life on earth. One of my favorite messages sent was “The angel opened the book of life, and  said “This one is too perfect for this world…and closed the book”.  For this, I can honestly  say “Alhumdallah” or “Thank God”.  Until we meet again my little baby.

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Aggression, Culture, death, Fear, Judgement, Terrorism, Violence, Worldview Differences

Good vs. Evil in War, Violence, and Terrorism: An Ambiguous Perception from the Fishbowl

Humans do not come into the world with a predetermined fixed worldview, but instead their worldview is shaped by their personal experiences, culture, natural environment, and social environment, which constructs their perception of the world (Burr, 2004).  While perhaps many believe that the construction of what constitutes “good vs. evil” is universal, in reality the construction of good versus evil is created through the interaction of the individual with their social environment, cultural indoctrination, as well as individual experiences through time.  In many ways, we are like fish trapped in a fishbowl that have a limited view of what we see, often encapsulated by glass barriers that expose us to a narrow current of the vast resources of water.  In addition, the inner environment of our fishbowl  affects our formation of the world from the amount of space we are allowed freely to explore our own internal world and environment, to the availability of nutrients, clean water,  oxygen, and our  fellow fish determines our level of aggressiveness and perceptions of the world.

As the world continues to struggle with acts of aggression, war, and violence on a collective group scale, the world also continues to struggle how to define legitimate aggression in defending  our own collective group vs. terrorism (Bongar, 2007; & Nacos, 2012).   Acts of aggression and violence in the human species has plagued our entire existence, with the perceptions of who is “good” or “evil” a subjective reality that is often colored by the glass of our own fishbowl existence.   One human’s view of an act of aggression or violence carried out defending a group’s worldview is pious and good, but is viewed by another collective group as pure evil.  This view of “good vs. evil” of the collective group is dependent upon the group’s values, beliefs, and collective group interests regarding resources, safety, and security for themselves and their allies.  Just as many fish species travel together in “schools of fish”, we as human often organize ourselves into little swimming schools that are often determined by social groups as religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, or other ideologies.  We have created a world of competing “schools of fish”, where survival of the fittest is propagated in terms of an “us” vs. “them” paradigm.

Globalization in the last century has created a new type of environment, in which as a species we have failed to master creating waters that  support diversity in terms of acceptance of different worldviews .  Until the last century, humans had limited cultural contact, but with the advent of more efficient and mass modes of transportation, as well as advanced technology such as the internet, our small-contained fishbowls have turned into gigantic aquariums.  We have now been dumped into this giant aquarium where different cultures, societal beliefs, values, and religions have been immersed together,  while trying to establish a food chain of who “eats” who.   While the big fish are trying to establish their power hierarchy, it is often the “shrimps” or innocent civilians, trying to carve out existences that become consumed in the whole process.   Consumed in either fear of others in the world, or consumed as they become the civilian casualties of others jockeying for their own supremacy.

Often in the media and in social conversations, acts of terrorism are often considered to be carried out by “crazed lunatics” that are perpetrated by evil villains (Norris, Kern, & Just, 2003).  Personally, it is often easier to provide explanations in which mental pathology provides some type of explanation for behavior that seeks to annihilate, hurt, or kill another human being.  Focusing on the pathology of the individual is an easy way to rid the collective responsibility of social conditions that foster an environment where acts of violence are fostered.  Research examining individuals who have carried out acts of terrorism suggests that in reality the majority of these individuals do not meet the criteria that has been suggested to indicate psychopathology or a history of being evil in other facets of their lives (Borum, 2004; Cottee & Hayward, 2011; & Kruglanski, & Fishman, 2009).  Research has suggested the life experiences, social influence, cultural influence, and historical context where shame and humiliation have been major themes serve as a catalyst for a “good” individual to go down a path of carrying out acts of evil (Borum, 2004; Waller, 2005; & Zimbardo, 2004).  In understanding the evolution of a path functioning as a “good” person to an “evil” person, the individual’s experiences, societal, and cultural factors must be all examined not in isolation, but as a cumulative experiences, that facilitates a path of violence (Kruglanski & Fishman, 2009).

One explanation of how individuals are influenced from a societal level is Hofstede’s (1984) concept of collective versus individual societies has often been used as a classification system to explain cultural worldviews and the social norms, values, and expected behaviors.  Individualist cultures are described in terms of valuing self-independence, concerns for the individual and their immediate family, as well as having loose social structures in the community.  In contrast, a collectivist society values social connectedness, extended family and communal relations, and an emphasis on the group needs versus the individual needs.  Although nations and cultures have typically been classified as more individualist or collective in nature.  Oyserman, Coon, & Kennelmeier (2002) have proposed that both elements and cultural values run concurrently in a society, but depending on the situation, one cultural orientation may be more prominent, as well as there are individual differences among individuals.  Collective identities of belonging to a group can be fostered in a group by the creation of an external threat.    Kruglanski & Fishman (2006) asserted that collective societies are more likely to use terrorist acts as a form of aggression to initiate social changes that in their perceptions benefit the group.   Both terrorist groups, and recognized governments have monopolized on the collective identities of the masses, rallying individuals using fear to engage in acts of violence, that under normal circumstances these individuals would not most likely engage in.

Just as individual factors alone cannot account for the creation of terrorist, societal and cultural factors cannot fully account for an individual going “good” to “evil”.  If the environment alone accounted for acts of evil, large groups of people would engage in terrorism, and dissenting voices condemning acts of  terrorism, both from within and outside a group of people, would not occur.  Just as different cultural and social factors may spawn an environment that is conducive to the creation of terrorist, individual experiences, individual differences in cognition, perception, and levels of tolerance exist within individuals providing both vulnerabilities and protective factors of who goes down the slippery slope of engaging in terrorism.  The concepts of “good” and “evil” are ambiguous constructs, which are influenced by both societal, cultural, and individual lenses.  Who is the feared shark and those different lenses of subjectivity shape who is perceived as the  shark hunter.

References

Bongar, B. (2007).  The psychology of terrorism:  Defining the need and describing the goals. .  In B.  Bongar, L.  Brown, L Beutler, J. Breckendridge, & P.  Zimbardo (Eds.)  Psychology of terrorism.  New York, NY:  Oxford Press.

Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of terrorism. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida.

Burr, V. (2004). Constructivism. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 186-187). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n165

Cottee, S., & Hayward, K. (2011). Terrorist (e)motives: The existential attractions of terrorism.  Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34(12), 963–986.   Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Hofstede, G. (1984). The cultural relativity of the quality of life concept. The Academy Of Management Review, 9(3), 389-398. doi:10.2307/258280

Kruglanski, A. W., & Fishman, S. (2006). The psychology of terrorism:“Syndrome” versus “tool” perspectives. Terrorism and Political Violence, 18(2), 193-215.

Kruglanski, A. W, & Fishman, S. (2009).  Psychological factors in terrorism and counterterrorism: Individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis.  Social Issues and Policy Review, 3(1), 1–44.

Matsumoto, D.  & Juang, L.  (2008). Culture and psychology (4th ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Nacos, B.  (2012).  Terrorism and counterrorsim (4th ed.).  New York, NY:  Pearson Education.

Norris, P., Kern, M., & Just, M. R. (Eds.). (2003). Framing terrorism: The news media, the government, and the public. New York, NY:  Routledge.

Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128(1), 3-72. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.1.3

Waller J. E. (2005).  Becoming evil: The making of terrorists. International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 42(2), 167–188. Retrieved from https://www.whitworth.edu/Administration/InstitutionalAdvancement/UniversityCommunications/WhitworthToday/2007_Spring/PDF/BecomingEvil.pdf

Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators. In A. G. Miller (Ed.), The social psychology of good and evil: Understanding our capacity for kindness and cruelty (pp. 21–50). New York, NY: Guilford.

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Aggression, Bias, death, Fear, Judgement, Palestine / Israeli Conflict, parenting, prejudice, Stereotypes

When the World is Vulgar……

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, what future do you see?

Toys and guns, cookies and blood, and a people searching for serenity?

Mama and Baba are close to protect you from harm, so close your eyes and dream my little habibi!

Play with your toys, run against the wind, and feel the sun against your face.

A two- year- old’s world, exciting and new, so much to learn about this place.

 

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, tell me what do you see?

“Mama! Mama! Shoof (look)! Look! A big steel bird is coming to see me!

How lucky am I, to see such a thing, something so different and rare! Do all good little boys get to see these?

“Ya habibi! Run with mama, somewhere to a different new place!”

Mama! Mama! Why? How come the smile is gone from your gentle face?

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide, why do you no longer see?

The world still has much to show you and how life should idealistically be!

The big shiny steel bird brought you a surprise and now you no longer see!

A two-year-old child, blankly stares out from a lifeless, charred, bloody face.

Habibi close your eyes and let your soul fly to a safer land far away from this hellish place.

 

I wrote this poem five years ago, after watching broadcast news, in which I viewed a small Palestinian boy who had been gravely wounded in an Israeli air assault being worked on by medical professionals in a hospital.  I caught myself glued to the television unable to look away from the fear and look of confusion I saw in the toddler’s face.  Even though his face was charred in places by burns, and reddened by his own blood, his beautiful cherub appearance was still visible, making the vision of his face a mixture of both heaven and hell.  As I continued to watch the live broadcast, right before my eyes, I saw the “light”, “soul”, or “life” disappear out of the little boy’s eyes.  The look of fear was replaced by a blank empty stare.  The medical professionals continued to work on the innocent child, but the moment his eyes changed, I knew he had passed on to another realm.  The efforts of the doctor were useless on the destruction that had been ravaged on this child’s small body by the air strikes.  The doctors eventually stopped administering medical treatment, and one of the men closed the child’s eyes.

I sat on the couch, holding my youngest daughter, who herself was only an infant, with tears streaming down my face, unable to talk, or articulate the feelings I had about what I had witnessed through modern technology.  My husband looked at me with confusion and said “If you don’t stop crying, I swear I am going to take all of the televisions out of the house”.  My husband has always been irritated by my emotional sensitivity and reactivity to the world around me.  As I sat and tried to compose myself, I finally stood up and walked off muttering “At least that little baby doesn’t have to exist in this fucked up world anymore”.  I walked into my home office and promptly wrote the above poem, trying to use a more productive form of expression to deal with my emotions.  Yes, I do tend to use profanity when I am distressed.  My apologies to those who I might offend, but sometimes with all the insanity and vulgarity of our world, my only release is with a response that has an equal level of vulgarity to combat my disbelief in how cold, cruel, and inhumane humans can be.  Perhaps we need to replace the word “humanity” with a more suitable term, taking the attribute of the human species out of the whole concept.

Over a year later, while visiting my sister in California, I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident in which a small child, of Hispanic ethnicity, had fallen from three stories.  As I knelt by the child and grasped his small hand, I saw that same look of confusion and fear that I saw in the Palestinian boy’s eyes.  I watched helplessly as I witnessed the “life”, “light”, “soul”, or “spirit” leave the little boy’s eyes.  Not only did I watch it, I physically felt the departure of his essence leaving his body.  The little boy was still breathing when the ambulance arrived, but  from what I understand was later taken off life support because of the absence of  brainwave activity.  I knew the little boy was gone before I received this update; I not only saw, but also felt his soul leaving his broken body on the pavement below the apartment window from which he fell.  I felt a connection with this child, even though our brief encounter and introduction to each other lasted only a few moments.  I struggled mentally and emotionally for a time after this tragic accident, coming to terms with this child’s death that occurred physically right before my own eyes.

The next day after the accident, I sat on my sister’s balcony with my mother in the upscale apartment complex at which the accident had happened.  The people living above my sister were also out on their balcony as well, who happened to be a nurse and doctor, and who had witnessed the accident the previous day.  As I sat and half-heartedly listened to the conversation between my mother and the neighbors, I concurrently was lost in my own internal world (and yes I have a tendency to do this), but a comment from the neighbors above caught my attention.  I remember the women saying “Well we didn’t go down because the family was clearly Hispanic and I am sure the accident somehow had drugs involved”.  Again, my emotional sensitivity, as well as my own personal Achilles heel of emotional reactivity took over my faculties and judgment.  I stood up and walked back into my sister’s house, but not before muttering “Racist fucking bitch”.  Again, I uttered a spontaneous emotional vulgar insult and response to a situation and worldview of another human that I saw as completely vulgar.  The realization that two trained medical professionals had forsaken offering their medical expertise and services to a child based upon their own jaded stereotype of “Hispanics” was more than I could tolerate.

It is only upon later reflection, that I can make the differences and connections between these two events and the emotional responses that the events elicited within me.  The differences between these two events are as follows:

  1. One was an accident, the other was an aggressive act by other humans.
  2. One child was Palestinian of Arab descent, the other child was American of Hispanic descent.
  3.  One event spurred suggestions of how to prevent the future loss of life, one event spurred escalating hostility.
  4. One event I could personally come to terms with because it was an accident, one event I still struggle with because it was caused by human’s evilness.

The similarities between these two events:

  1.  A child died.
  2. The child was from a marginalized group, in which some sectors of society refuse to lend help based on this.

Annually when the summer heat enters my life, my mind often drifts to the summer that I held a child’s hand as he passed over to a safer place.  This summer is no different in that I still think about his family and wonder how they have dealt with this death.  This summer is no different in that conflict and war across our world continues to take the lives of the innocent, and often this involves innocent civilians; especially children who are trying to exist and live in a world where the powerful and greedy do not recognize their rights to live in safety and security.  This summer is no different in that much of the world that is not directly affected by this conflict turn their backs on the suffering of others.  This summer is no different in that people in general fail to lend a hand, or give support to those that they view different from themselves.

My question is:  How many summers have to pass before humans quit basing their judgments and actions on who deserves help on stereotypes of the “other”?  How many summers have to pass with the continued death of children in Palestine and elsewhere in the world caused by humans’ darker side and lack of empathetic concern and action?  I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece nearly five years ago, even more shocking, the war and conflict has raged for more than 80 years;  how much more time has to pass before no more children are casualties of this conflict?

When humans quit being vulgar in their actions, perhaps I will learn to be less vulgar in my words as well.

 

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