The Older Dad

The wise and older parent

Should We Celebrate Qaddafi's Death?

Is the death of a human being a reason to celebrate?

By now, most of us have heard the news that Qaddafi is dead. US news outlets heralded this final chapter in the toppling of a dictatorship that strangled Libya for decades. And, most anchors welcomed commentators both from our own country and from that region of the Middle East.

Many on TV or radio spoke of the new dawn in Libya for freedom, but some openly celebrated Qaddafi's death. The tone of the celebratory comments seemed vindictive and gleeful. The situation now begs the questions: "Does someone's death ever deserve a celebration?"

The question impacts us as parents of young, impressionable children. When adults express joy mixed with revenge on TV, children hear the concreteness of the message. Youngsters do not grasp the abstract notion that Qaddafi's death equates to cessation of a terrorist regime. Instead, they hear adults blending pleasure with violence.

Behaviorally, children can learn to associate happiness with the use of violence to seek revenge or to right a wrong. The ideas that form can combine with other forms of learning, such as modeling violent cartoons, to produce beliefs that normalize and accept violence as justified and pleasurable. Young children learn these concrete associations, and run the risk of applying them in the real world.

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The relief experienced by so many is understandable. As parents, we might consider simply overlooking the celebratory nature of some comments. But, should we allow our children to risk learning the dangerous association of joy over death? Instead, we better serve our children by explaining the happiness of ending any dictator's atrocious actions, adding that, in civilized societies, we feel sad about death.

A rule of thumb is "violence begets violence." Behavioral modeling supports this maxim. As parents, we can teach "might for right" without glorifying death. Is there ever a time to celebrate death? Should such revelry obscure the deaths of freedom fighters and the gruesomeness of war? The answer should be NO! Celebrate freedom, but regret the deaths (even Qaddafi's) that led to it.

Kevin D. Arnold, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., is the Director of the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy of Greater Columbus and a Clinical Faculty member in the Dept. of Psychiatry at OSU.

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