We Did Forget
I spent much of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in self-imposed social media silence. For someone who is, ahem, infamous among my friends for his political diatribes, this was a rather remarkable occasion. Given the plethora of words devoted to remembrances of those who lost their lives on that fateful day, and my fortune at not having counted any of my own loved ones among them, I felt my silence in deference to those with more compelling stories was the respectful thing to do.
My silence also afforded me an opportunity to step back and simply observe the social ecosystem, friends and strangers alike, to see how they chose to mark the day. Sadly, what I observed was nothing less than horrifying and it led me to conclude, in spite of the many images to contrary, that we have, indeed, forgotten the lessons imparted to us eleven years ago.
Once America got past the shock and the anger of the our security having been so thoroughly violated by 19 men with box cutters and a mission to strike at the heart of the infidels, the overwhelming reaction to the attack was…unity. Democrat or Republican, Christian or atheist, gay or straight…none of the myriad of ways we define ourselves mattered. The only thing that mattered was our shared humanity. With rare exception, we broke out of the self-imposed boxes of politics, religion and sexuality, reached across the aisle, and embraced each other in ways seldom seen before or since.
I remember statements of solidarity coming from allies and advisories alike. Candlelight vigils were held in Iran and over 60,000 spectators observed a moment of silence at Tehran’s football stadium. Russian President Vladamir Putin condemned the “barbaric acts.” Friend or foe, much of the world found common ground in mourning the deaths of thousands of American civilians at hands of terrorists.
Much has changed about the world in the eleven years since, not the least of which was the creation of social media hubs, such as Facebook and Twitter, that enable the average person to speak their minds to a broader audience than most had access to in the past. And speak our minds, we do.
We cast aspersions on the citizenship and religion of our elected President and question his patriotism when photographed without a hand over his heart during the National Anthem, as if the position of a man’s hand is the only qualification on what is in his heart. When challenged in our point of view, we childishly call each other names, as though words like “idiot” and “moron” can suddenly, perhaps magically, alter someone’s perspective. We shove individuals back into their boxes—the Muslims, the rich, the poor, the gays—carelessly blaming our ills on the entire group instead of singling out the exceptions that seldom stand for the whole.
Worse, we can’t even seem to put aside our differences on a day that once forced us to do exactly that.
Today, in the aftermath of more senseless deaths in Libya borne of extreme sectarian views, the finger pointing has reached a fevered pitch. As I look back at the way we reacted to tragedy eleven years ago and the way we’re reacting to it at this very minute, I can’t help but feel that we, as human beings, have lost our way. Because at the end of the day, we all belong to the same group, humanity, that lives and dies, loves and cries and otherwise tries to makes sense of the growing senselessness of this world.
Ultimately, in failing miserably to avoid for even a single day the insults, bigotry and hyperbole that define our discourse and show our strength in unity, not as a nation or a religion or a race, but as members of a common species, we have forgotten many of the lessons taught to us by the tragic events of 9/11 and in the days following. How many more people must suffer until we learn to celebrate what unites us instead of what divides us?