Q My son is in the military and has just returned from Iraq. He was against the war, but had to go. When he joined the army he never thought he would have to fight in the Middle East. We are Pakistani-Muslims. He is very upset and feels extremely guilty, sad, and angry about participating in this violence. How can I help him?
A The best way to help him is to understand his situation as fully as possible. Let him talk about and fully feel his reactions to the war and his role in it. He is facing quite an internal dilemma. He had to participate in destruction and killing for a purpose that he considers invalid. This dissonance can create tremendous confusion and guilt, which can lead to depression.
This is a tremendous opportunity for him to think more deeply about what his values are and how he can live them out. His grief can deepen his empathy for his brothers and sisters everywhere subject to violence. This will help him mature and realize that war is rarely a solution to oppression. At the same time Iraq is free of a brutal dictator. If he puts his energies towards working for non-violent ways to safety and peace within himself and in the world, he will begin to find healing and value in his life. This will alleviate his pain and empower him.
Q I am always thinking about the conflict and wars going on in the world right now. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the economy and fear that things will get worse before they get better. I don’t know how to cope with all of this.
A This is a difficult time for many people and your concerns are understandable. But if we look back in history for the last 2000 years, we see that wars, economic depressions, and even famines have been a part of human life. Although the stake of violence is greater with technology and nuclear arms, the essential conflicts remain the same. No one person can resolve any of these long-term and entrenched issues. Each person can do their part. That is exactly what is needed—individuals and communities participating in creating a better world.
The way to deal with these conditions is to first find balance in your perspective and life. There is a lot of good in the world. Are you seeing it and enjoying it? Hard times always offer a deeper understanding and growth. Worrying doesn’t create transformation and healing. Reflection, caring and living your truth in the world change you and others. I think this is an amazing time to be alive. There is so much to learn and give.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto. He specializes in integrating Eastern and Western perspectives. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.