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Six years ago this week I asked, “Is this a Wake Up Call?” in response to the attack in Paris that killed 130 people in a coordinated attack at various locations in Paris, most notably – the Bataclan nightclub (November 13, 2015). Is this a wake up call to the normality of violence, to the increasing polemic of differences?

In this month to consider the place of violence in our times, I was intrigued by what one of the victim’s sister (Zoe Alexander) said to her brother’s killers about the poison of violence:

You cannot Neutralize Poison with more Poison

It’s taken some six years for the 20 suspects of the Paris attacks to stand on trial. The BBC reported that the sister of the only British national killed in the 2015 Paris attacks told the suspects on trial over the atrocity that,

… while [my family and I] deplore what you did, we don’t hate you.

Her brother Nick Alexander, 35, was one of 130 people randomly killed when gunmen identifying with Islamic State stormed the Bataclan Theatre in Paris during a rock concert.

In court Zoe Alexander addressed the defendants directly as she testified on the 33rd day of the biggest trial in France’s modern history:

You cannot neutralize poison with more poison… we’re not at war with you; you’re at war with yourselves.

Without elaboration, Ms. Alexander reveals that there has been a pre-existent poison: the poison of violence – the poison of injustice – the poison of hatred. And it should not surprise anyone that in response to anticedent injustices, wounded people are prone to revenge in lieu of justice – for indeed, justice delayed is justice withheld.

The Invisible Bullets of Violence

There is another way this poison eats you from the inside – if not from hated of others, then it can be turned into hatred of self – mutating into the inability to accept being a survivor of something so horrific:

“The court also heard from the father of Guillaume Valette, who killed himself two years after the attacks.

Known in French media as the 131st victim of the attacks, he came out alive and physically unharmed from the massacre in the Bataclan.

When the attackers struck, Mr Valette had recounted lying on the ground, hiding among a mass of bodies, cut down by the bullets, his father Alain told the court.

He then hid until police intervened and managed to escape unscathed. However, he received “invisible bullets, which killed him, slowly but surely”, his father said. He said his son suffered from post-traumatic stress and took his own life two years later, aged 31.”

For the full story see, “Paris attacks

How do you Neutralize Poison?

I wonder if we can learn anything from the response to physical poisoning? According to the Mayo Clinic, here are the actions to take until help arrives:

  • Swallowed poison. Remove anything remaining in the person’s mouth.
  • Inhaled poison. Get the person into fresh air as soon as possible.
  • Syrup of ipecac. Don’t give syrup of ipecac or do anything to induce vomiting. Expert groups, including the American Association of Poison Control Centers and the American Academy of Pediatrics, no longer endorse using ipecac in children or adults who have taken pills or other potentially poisonous substances. No good evidence proves its effectiveness, and it often can do more harm than good.

The Unspoken Assumptions:

We cannot neutralize poison with more poison”

– and –

“We need help.

We need others – often to recognize the symptoms or to call in more help. We can’t do this alone. We need people who can stay with us the best they can.

It is interesting that the first aid for poison is to remove whatever residual poison that remains in the mouth, or to get the person into fresh air as soon as possible. Isn’t this true when it comes to the poison of violence: remove residual poison from the mind, and get the person to fresh air free from the poison of hatred.

The advice to not induce vomiting speaks to being present to a person who is poisoned without some ill-conceived help that actually hurts – it speaks to your own humility to get help.

Self Care in an Atmosphere of Violence

How about your own self care – your own unchecked prejudice or hatred? When do you see it; when do you (or can you) recognize the symptoms that speak to underlying wounds?

When it comes to the poison of violence: remove residual poison from your mind, and get fresh air free from the poison of hatred.

May you be surround by the kind of people who can help you out of a poisonous atmosphere.