I first learned about the death of Osama Bin Laden on Twitter. An hour later I watched the President speak on television.
Since then, I have listened to Americans react to his death, and I have listened to the reaction to the reaction.
I watched video footage of people outside the White House batting beach balls in the air while screaming in celebration.
I have read as people on Facebook and Twitter both celebrate the death of Bin Laden and condemn the euphoria over his death.
I witnessed a falsified Martin Luther King quote get passed around in what I can only assume to be a passive-aggressive attempt to chastise friends and fellow Americans for their outward exuberance over the death of the most wanted terrorist in the world.
If you are going to chastise someone, don’t hide behind a quote to do it.
In the past few days I have heard much debate of the merits and morality of celebrating the death of another human being. I have heard people declare unequivocally that it is wrong to feel joy in your heart over the death of this most wanted man.
I have never been one for extreme emotional responses. Unless it is a sporting event, I tend to be even keeled, and even then, I tend to remain calm and introspective.
I threw a shoe through a wall when Desmond Howard ran back the opening kickoff to the second half of the 1996 Super Bowl, and I cried in 1996 when the Yankees won the World Series, but other than that outlying year, I tend to remain thoughtful and stoic in most circumstances.
When I first learned of Bin Laden’s death, I was pleased that the United States military had succeeded in their mission without any loss of life.
I was happy that the families of 9/11 victims might find some closure with his death.
I was relieved that there would be no trial.
Was I happy that he was dead?
But not enough to tote a beach ball to the streets and begin celebrating en masse.
But here’s the thing:
Does anyone have the right to tell a person that they are wrong for feeling euphoric over the death of the man responsible for the largest attack on civilians in American history?
Should anyone be told not to celebrate?
Are we really in the business of telling people not to feel happy?
Actually, here’s the thing:
We spend most of our childhood being told by teachers and parents to be ourselves. We are urged to avoid peer pressure and not to follow the crowd. We are encouraged to find our own path in life and to be the person we were meant to be.
Then we follow this advice as adults, fail to adhere to social expectations and are punished for it.
When a person posts their joy over Bin Laden’s death on Facebook or takes to the streets like people did at the conclusion of World War II, some of us suddenly feel the need to wag our fingers and tell them to stop.
To remind them that Bin Laden’s death cannot bring back those lost on 9/11.
To preach to them about the perils of vengeance.
We tell these people who are trying to be themselves and express their feelings to mitigate their emotional response, or at least conceal it behind a more somber and measured affect.
We urge them to conform to the mean using falsified quotations, Bible verses, blog posts and old fashioned name calling.
We tell them that there is a predetermined level of appropriate celebration and urge them to conform.
I hate this.
I was not one who was celebrated Osama Bin Laden’s death with beach balls and chants of U.S.A.
I was more stoic and introspective about the news.
But I will also be the last person on the face of this Earth to tell a person to feel a certain way or falsify their emotional response in deference to the bell curve.
I learned the childhood lesson of being yourself quite well, and I refuse to punish anyone for following this advice.