Revenge for Teenagers' Deaths and Initiation Rites

There will be blood. And who are we to judge? If it were your kid, taking a walk, ambushed by men in hoods, probably tortured before their murder, wouldn't you want revenge?
Kidnapped Israeli teens, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach

In today's news it is the entire Jewish world (all 13 million, more or less), and an entire country, about the size of the tiny state of Rhode Island, that mourn the senseless kidnapping and murder of children. They were not soldiers, as Palestinian news suggests. The innocent are vulnerable, the terrorist message. Hamas praised the kidnapping. Nice work, the "oppressed" might have said, slapping one another on the back. They were young: Naftali Fraenkel, 16; Gilad Shaer, 16; Eyal Yifrach, 19. whole lives ahead of them.

Yet on late night Chicago television I see local Jewish parents and their kids, interviewed on the street, a busy retail thoroughfare known to cater to different communities (just east of the Jews and Russians are our Arab cousins, then just a few blocks east of them people from India; Assyrians and others sprinkled within). It is the Jewish parents at the microphone, and they are saying:

"Hell no, we're not keeping our kids home. They will go for their year after graduating high school to learn more about the country, for seminary study, maybe two or more years. Maybe they will settle in the Holy Land. We will not be intimidated by sociopaths."

As you know, we have them, sociopaths, here in America, too. The reasons for blatant disregard of social norms, and there's nothing like murder and kidnap to top that list, are multivariate. But because so many young American youths are about to leave home for college, and so many of them will be pledging fraternities are likely to subject themselves to initiation rites that present serious health hazards, let's look at only one.

But first a little background.

This time of year I see college kids on vacation, home for the summer, a great time to check in with their local therapist. But some of them are new to me,  seeing me for the first time because their parents are terrified to let them go this fall. They aren't terrified because they are overly dependent, or because their marriages are in such distress that they need the child at home, although these are plausible explanation, and you would have that right on a test, but because their kids have given them reason to worry. They acted out in high school in ways that your average teenager, testing the waters of independence, acts out in high school.

And when I listen to the story, the insanity of the deed that brought a late-teen/emerging adult to therapy, the one trait that screams out is really quite normal, considering the developmental stage, adolescence.
It is omnipotence. Some kids, from the ages of 12-25, able to abstract and think for themselves, are flooded with a sense of omnipotence. Nothing can happen to me. I am a capable person, even more capable than my mother and father. I can think for myself, make my own choices. And nothing will happen to me.

We discuss that in therapy, and what it will be like away at school, and how that sense of omnipotence is likely to get them into trouble if they don't harness it, get those choices under control, recognize that bad things do happen to good people. When they will be told to drink fifteen straight shots of tequila as a hazing ritual to get into a fraternity, those bad things are more likely to happen.

What does this have to do with kidnapping and murder? When the boys were kidnapped, the Jewish world shook with emotion, first sadness then anger.  FD and I talked about it late into the evening, both of us very sad, too sad to be angry. Anger comes later. He said to me, "They are probably dead."

"Why?" I asked, innocently, hoping for another prisoner swap with Hamas.

"There is so much in-fighting among the Palestinian world, and a need to prove one's superiority. This is likely to have been an initiation rite of some kind, a way to get into the higher echelons of terrorist society."

An act of omnipotence. I can play God.

The boys were walking, on their way home, while others were playing God.



Anonymous said…
This is an incredibly sad and disturbing incident. But society's response to it is just as disturbing. Amartya Sen wrote a book, Identity and Violence, about how we create identity to justify violence. Until we can see all of these boys as our boys this violence will never end.
therapydoc said…
Agreed. As an aside, when I wrote, "There will be blood," I had no idea that there really would be a killing, a Palestinian child. Adding shame upon shame. As my mother used to say, "Two wrongs don't make a right."
Mound Builder said…
I think all murders are a tragedy. I think it's terribly sad that these three teens lost their lives. I'm sorry there has already been what appears to be a retaliatory murder.

I can understand the impulse for revenge. I see the need not to give in to that impulse.

Death by murder is terribly disruptive to the whole community. No doubt the greatest impact is on immediate family and friends but there is a ripple effect that extends outward, sometimes to a large community, sometimes to a smaller one. And the effect lasts for more than one generation, can have an effect on subsequent generations.

My father's father was brutally murdered, in cold blood, when my father was nearly grown. I've known this for as long as I can remember. My father always answered mmy questions. I know he felt angry and I believe he even wanted revenge. But he overrode that impulse. He said it ttook him 20 years to reach a point where he felt forgiveness and that he felt the person who killed his father was a lost soul. My father was deprived of his father as were his siblings; his mother deprived of her husband. The community was affected. And I never got to know my grandfather. I am grateful, though, for my father's efforts to reconcile what seems impossible to reconcile. I'm grateful he reached a point of forgiveness.

All murders are destructive not just because they end a life but because of the effect it has on everyone who is left behind, the things they then have to struggle with. In time, I hope that all of the fammilies of these young people will find some peace. And I hope somehow people will find a way to resist givnig in to the impulse for revenge.
Hannah said…
I've wondered something for years now, Therapydoc. (I'm kind of trolling, here, just a warning)

Few things. Is the practice of therapy a practice of vulnerability? If it is, because I would think that it is -- a mutual vulnerability, to some extent, between client and therapist -- then how does that effect the therapist? I'm wondering if such constant revealing, and personal challenging, doesn't lead to a relatively uncommon adherence to one's own culture for the comfort the community can provide? You know what I mean? OR does it do just the opposite, and open a person up to other cultures.... really?

Because in my understanding of the conflicts in the Middle East, all parties are terrorists in some light. All parties. Terrorists. But that is a debate on power, isn't it. Who wins, who's powerful, who writes the stories.

Really, I just mean to Terror Management Theory cultural adherence GENERALLY, but I wonder if shame and vulnerability for the professional of such things doesn't warp out adherence to cultural identity (or maybe even professional identity)? Not to say you're warped, I've just always wondered....

Cause Jewish boys die, you need a blog post. Palestinian, kind of, "ah whatta shame," you really didn't think a Palestinian would die?... I don't know! I don't know you, I don't know! Who the hell am I? Lets all ask ourselves that. Sheepishly getting down from my soap box. Prayers to all communities, everywhere. All of um!
Hannah said…
Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean my post to be such a personal attack on you and your character. I've always enjoyed your open hearted, exposed exploration of topics, and what I posted was an attack.

As a Native American there are parallels between my culture and that of the Palestinian situation, and so the topic does make me defensive.

But the role of culture in our lives is an important one, and I do wonder if that is even more true for a therapist?

So again, please accept my apology.
therapydoc said…
We're good, Hannah. I would have posted on the Palestinian youth, but posting at all is an effort. Not enough hours in the day. My personal identification as a Jew only biases me in that I see the history of my culture through a 3000 year old lens and from the start, that history was integrally tied to a very small parcel of real estate that was sometimes bought, according to our written and oral traditions, and certainly promised, accordingly, by God. My vulnerability as a doc? No more or less than anyone else, and my words are always, always guarded on the job. The blog? Not my profession, merely a place to finally say what I want to say. In therapy it is really the patient's soapbox. Surely not my own.
therapydoc said…
MB, I spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about murders. All kinds. The insanity of that. In my particular community I am considered extraordinarily lucky to have had 4 living grandparents to teach me, love me. The grandparents of most of my friends were murdered by Hitler and his sheep. Lots and lots of murders, and for some crazy reason I never tire of hearing the stories. Thank you for yours.

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