Lessons from 9/11


On the anniversary of 9/11, I think there are lessons to be learned, lessons that go deep into the heart of who we are. Here are those that I think are the most important:

We are fundamentally social animals, beings that need others for our very survival. We must live in a world with other people, even those different from ourselves. That social world is connected the way strands in a web are related to one another—when one strand vibrates, the entire web moves.

There is one home and that is the world. While boundaries still exist, we are part of a world community in a way that is new and profound. What happens anywhere affects everyone.

While many in our country are deeply affected by the recession, we are still a privileged people. The average standard of living was unimaginable just a few generations ago. However, our wealth is unevenly distributed. While our own effort counts, much of what we have is a matter of luck—where and when we were born.

We are privileged and privilege brings with it obligations. Those who benefit from global economic development are complicit in the misery that this brings to many others, often people far away and unknown to us. Material acquisition needs to be balanced with fairness. Social justice is a moral imperative. How wealth is acquired and how it is distributed is a central moral and religious concern.

We don’t need to love our neighbors as much as give them their due.

No one has a monopoly on the truth. Only fanatics believe that they have the whole truth and nothing but the truth. While not all fanatics are terrorists, all terrorists are fanatics.

Arrogance is the enemy of social harmony. Humility is required for people to get along. This means respecting insights and truths of others. It is putting yourself in another’s shoes or as psychologist call it, perspective taking. It is essential for moral growth.

Life is fragile and for that all the more precious. Jenna Jacobs, whose husband was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center and daughter was born after her father was killed, said “Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are the sum total of our loss. But that’s not true. Above all, we are mothers.”

I would add, above all, we are human.


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