If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention. That’s a tagline from a bumper sticker I saw many years ago, and the longer I live the more I realize it is true.
Here we are on the anniversary of the worst attack on Americans on our own soil, and I am struck by the incredible chasm that has opened among our people in a mere fourteen years. The memories of that horrible string of events on 9/11/01 still sting for every adult and many children who witnessed the TV coverage. Disbelief grew into grief which morphed into outrage.
The days and months that followed brought our nation together in ways that had previously been unimaginable. Suddenly all of our best was shining like a beacon for the rest of the world. There is nothing like a tragedy to pull people together, and Americans showed off their finest in volunteerism, cooperation, and charity. We felt a patriotic duty to mourn the dead, assist the injured, heal the wounds, rebuild our damaged landmarks, and memorialize the horrors of the attack.
Fast forward fourteen years. As a nation we have struggled through war, recession, and three presidential elections. We have suffered through catastrophic hurricanes, the explosion of a space shuttle, and a bombing at the Boston Marathon. We have seen more women than ever rise to fill seats on the US Supreme Court. Minorities have filled more top government offices than any previous time in our history, including the office of President. We have seen race riots, cop shootings, and an unbelievable string of mass shooting incidents at colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools. All of these events have been challenging for our nation, but the real tragedy for me is that through all of this our people have appeared to drift farther apart rather than come together.
We are more divided by social issues, religious beliefs, and economic classes than ever before. We have become left versus right, conservative versus liberal, and power versus poverty.
I am not a sociologist or psychologist, just an ordinary person who pays attention. Outraged? You bet. How about incensed? How about, I can’t even work my brain around the fact that Americans can’t seem to be able to discuss issues in a civil forum without descending to name calling, bullying, and bigotry? How about, WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?
What can we do about it? We can seek civility at every turn. We can look for opportunities for dialogue and discussion and negotiation. We can dig deep into our psyches and turn off the switch that causes knee-jerk reactions. We can insist that our politicians and leaders engage in meaningful, purposeful debates on the crucial issues that face our country: poverty, education, health care, the environment, and the economy. Much like the building of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, all of this requires compromise and cooperation.
If you are reading this and labeling me an optimist, you would be wrong. I am the first one in every group to be called either a pessimist or a realist. But today, on this anniversary of a horrific tragedy that left thousands of Americans dead and injured, I am looking back on what was also one of our shining moments of triumph over tragedy. For the sake of generations to come, I choose to hold out a small shred of hope. Who’s with me?