What have we learned since 9/11?


If I had to tell you what people here in America have learned over the past 20 years, you wouldn’t like the answer. Little to zip. Back on 9/11, when terrorists attacked our country with a ferocity that shattered New York, we all witnessed strangers coming together. Strangers ran towards each other in ash as first responders ran back towards certain death.

The most eerie of scenes reminded people that when under attack, humans can bind together. Think about it. For a few hours that day, people stopped judging each other. They didn’t have a quick, nasty thought about another’s wardrobe or language. There were people in need of help. Bleeding, dying, trapped, crushed, somehow hanging on. Nobody thought about roasting or degrading someone else. The goal was simple: make it out of this alive.

Over 3,000 people didn’t make it, including 343 NY firefighters. As people were running away from the towers to live, others were going up those stairs to perish, all with the intent of saving a few lives or more.

What I’m getting is… what the fuck happened to us? Where did all the hate, judgement, harassment, and overall disgust with each other creep back into the modern world? I thought we killed it. If there was one damning thing about watching a riveting new Netflix documentary on 9/11, it’s how many people in this country-it’s the only country I know very well so far in my life-act as rotten to each other today as they did on Sept. 10, 2001. Nothing changed. Nothing was learned.

People still prefer hate over love, negative over positive, and gossip over truth. It’s sickening, but maddeningly a more normal activity. 20 years after race and skin color became less important than get another person to safety for at least one day, racial tensions are still white hot in 2021. Why?

As I take my 39th lap around the sun, seemingly sprinting towards the big 4-0 (what happened to the past six months?!), I sit back and think about a few things. Every Sept. 11, I think about something in particular a little extra. Are we doing a good job? You know, us, the folks who are still here. Forget who lived or didn’t live in New York or Washington DC. Never mind ruminating about if it’s okay to grieve even though your family remained whole after that fateful day. Just think about general activity.

Are we holding doors open for each other, regardless of race or gender? Sure. 

Are we harshly judging each other’s political and religious stances? Yes. 

Are we still quick to judge someone we’ve never met, heard speak, or spoken to ourselves? Oh yeah. 

There’s only so much one person can do. I can’t whisk around all day being overly generous, because the same won’t be returned. So save me the “do something about it” speech. It’s old and recycled, like “Halloween” sequels. Neither one of us could start being better tomorrow and see instant change.

But guess what… it certainly couldn’t hurt. Here’s the other things I’m thinking about. A few things to consider moving forward so that when another ten years pass and I ask this question again, the answer can be different. The better version of different.

First, stop judging strangers. Just do it. The less judging you will do, the less stress you will take home with you. Let them deal with their own shit. Your hands are full.

Secondly, be kind to those same strangers. If you can spare a dollar at the corner for someone who needs some help, do it. If you see a person asking for help outside a gas station, buy them a meal and a bottle of water instead of just giving them a few dollars or moving past them. We all took a hit recently. A little help goes a long way. Something about surviving the first brutal wave of the pandemic taught me that.

Thirdly, protect the kids. In other words, stop yelling at them. Their world has been tossed upside down, with the general lack of consistent school formats, a paranoid fear about going to a crowded park, or just the ever-changing nature of their surroundings and mental development. Telling others how to parent is a pet peeve but I’ll make an exception here, because it’s important. Yelling at them doesn’t lead to better discipline. Deep down, no way. Instead of yelling and raising everyone’s blood pressure, just talk to them. They’re smarter than you think.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. We need more scientists, doctors, and confident humans instead of gun shy, insecure, and second-guessing micro-managers. If you care about something, dig your feet in and defend it. It’s all we have.

9/11 will always be a haunting concoction of loss, hope, beauty, and tragedy. It’s what happened afterwards that didn’t really impress.

Here’s a goal: let’s all be better.

Image courtesy of History.com. 

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