We’ve learned the wrong lesson from 9/11

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

So said George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author, in 1905.

Perhaps that’s why my wife and I, during a long weekend in New York for a wedding, took a train and subway ride into the Big Apple to see the 9/11 memorial.

As a friend told us, that’s something you do only once. It’s a sober reminder of what happened on one particular day 18 years ago.

Once is enough for a powerful reminder like that.

Cannot forget

If you were old enough to remember that day, those two airplanes crashing into the iconic World Trade Center towers provided memories you’ll never forget. I was a newspaper copy editor in Michigan at the time, watching the surreal events unfold on deadline.

newspapers 7

Our daily newspaper published several editions that day, because the news happened so fast. Our first edition didn’t even mention the attack. The last edition – literally a stop-the-presses moment – reported the panic and shock of a nation-defining tragedy.

Since that day, our society has changed permanently, and not necessarily for the better. We no longer trust each other, not in airports – security is tighter than it’s ever been – or even on the sidewalk, where we stare at our phones or listen to our music, oblivious to the world around us.

Burned-out fire trucks and ambulances. Twisted steel of the north and south towers. Charred pieces of the airplanes-turned-weapons. Snippets from the morning TV talk shows, interrupted by updates from Ground Zero. Smoke billowing in New York, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania.

memorial 9

The memorial captures all of it. And much more.

As if we could ever forget.

Fear replaces trust

It struck me that people in other parts of the world face these fears every day. Imagine the Kurds in Syria right now. Will they be alive tomorrow?

We lived through that once.

Just once.

We have the capability to prevent such attacks, for the most part anyway, by stepping up security. Cameras watch us everywhere – not just at airports, but at businesses, street corners and even some private homes.

We don’t trust anyone anymore.

Why is there so much evil in the world today? Because that’s what we expect of each other.

We act out our fears.

If, instead, we would look for the good in the world, we’d see it. I discovered that as we raised our three sons. Give them a little age-appropriate responsibility, and they’ll step up. A little alone time because Mom and Dad both need to run a short errand. Then, our oldest driving to an out-of-town event with his best friend as a teenager. Eventually, all three of our sons went away to college.

We trusted them, because we’d prepared them. And they passed with flying colors.

Perhaps that works at home, but society no longer operates that way.

Unity, for a brief moment

If your skin color is different, if your nationality or religious beliefs are different, you are not to be trusted. That didn’t start on Sept. 11, 2001, of course, but it sure increased after that date.

Immediately after 9/11, this nation unified like I’d never seen it do before. That lasted about three weeks. Then people stopped going to church and praying for each other, seeking solace in the unity that comes from a shared experience.

memorial 8

In a sense, we’ve forgotten the past already. We’ve forgotten what unifies us.

We care only about what divides us. Our politics, our religion, our nationality, our social values, our language. We build walls, literal ones and figurative ones in our hearts.

Every one of us, including me, does this.

When our sons were learning to drive, I told them not to trust any other driver on the road. Act as if all of them are idiots, so that when another driver does something stupid, you won’t be surprised. And you’ll be ready to react.

That’s good advice on the road. Unfortunately, we live all of our lives that way, don’t we?

We prove ourselves untrustworthy. Every time I drive on a highway – every single time – I get passed by drivers going 15 mph or more over the speed limit. So do you, unless you’re the speeder. There aren’t enough police cars out there to prevent this.

Identity theft. Robo calls. Inferior products (we don’t build things the way we used to; I could write a column just about this). I’m renting a tux for an upcoming wedding; the company doesn’t want me to pick it up early, and they want it back on Sunday, the day after the wedding. They don’t trust me to keep it even one extra day, even though I’m paying more than $200 for the privilege of holding onto that tux for, like, four days. Not five.

The new normal

Why do we remember 9/11? Is it to point fingers at the bad guys?

Is that all we learned?

Have we forgotten what unifies us?

memorial 23

Every one of us is the bad guy, actually. Each of us, including you and me, is an enemy to someone. If you call yourself a Republican or a Democrat, you’re an enemy. If you’re white or black or Middle Eastern, you’re an enemy to someone. If you’re a Christian or a Muslim, you’re Satan personified to someone.

We have more in common than we think we do. 9/11 proved that, if only for three weeks.

The fallout proves how much we’ve forgotten.

Why visit the 9/11 memorial in New York?

How do we prevent such a tragedy from happening again? While we haven’t had an attack of that scale on our soil since, we have mass shootings all the time. Most of them are internal, not from outside terrorists.

memorial 27

We no longer trust each other. We put up walls and stockpile weapons to protect ourselves. The spiral deepens.

I went for a jog through the neighborhood shortly after we bought our house two years ago. I left the front door open, since I wasn’t planning to be gone long. My neighbor noticed and said I shouldn’t do that, because there’s teenagers around who will steal stuff.

Even in suburban America, this is the world we live in. We’re hardly safe even in our own homes.

The world has come to our front porch. We’ve slammed the door, and locked it out.

This is our 9/11 legacy. I’m afraid we’ve missed the lesson we needed to learn.

Define the terms, and then …

Define the terms.

I met the father of our church’s new worship leader last weekend, visiting from out of town. As we chatted for a few minutes, I mentioned that I write a blog. “What about?” he asked. “Issues of the day, and my faith, mostly,” I said.

“Define the terms,” he said.

I knew exactly what he meant.

It’s why I don’t often engage in your conversations, preferring to carefully avoid most of those terms.

Love.

Hate.

Inclusion.

Discrimination.

Racism.

Believe.

Faith.

Freedom.

Addiction.

The economy.

Right vs. wrong.

Rights.

This list is hardly exhaustive.

Every one of these words means different things to different people. That’s why Facebook memes are so inflammatory. You post something to make a point, and someone else interprets it entirely differently.

Even worse, most of you have no intention of discussing the issue, but only in preaching to your choir.

A poll

Case in point:

“Do you think Trump is a racist? Simple yes or no.”

Depends who you ask.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

No. No. No. No.

Never the twain shall meet in this online poll currently making the rounds. Neither side has any intention of discussing the issue.

“Intelligent discussion” is an oxymoron.

Love, hate

What is “love?”

That word has a myriad of definitions and meanings. Each of us defines it slightly differently, from our own perspective.

Indeed, we define all these hot-button words from our own perspective.

“Hate.” Is there really as much hate out there as we say there is?

What is hate, anyway?

Some of you define “hate” as any stance different than yours. I’m not exaggerating.

How do you expect to get along with anyone while throwing that word around? You’ve marginalized yourself.

The economy

Is “the economy” doing great? Depends who you ask.

If the stock market is your indicator, then yes. If finding a good job that pays the bills is your indicator, then no. There are lots of jobs out there, but many of them are outsourced or lower-paying service jobs, with fewer well-paying manufacturing and management careers than there used to be. We don’t like to talk about that.

Inclusion, discrimination

“Inclusion.” Oooh, there’s a good word. Of course all should be welcome just about anywhere. But that’s not what inclusion means in today’s America. A certain sector of society has taken over that word, and politicized it.

Even inclusive people exclude those who don’t think like they do.

Let that sink in (I don’t like this phrase, but it fits here).

“Discrimination” is another often misunderstood word. I’m a member of AARP, and I get emails and Facebook posts almost daily talking about “age discrimination.”

When I say discrimination, that’s not what most of you think about, is it? But it’s very real. I switched jobs several times in my 50s, and I’m sure I experienced age discrimination to some degree while job searching.

Most of you put “discrimination” and “racism” in the same sentence. And you should. Because racism is very real as well.

But again, what is it? To those of you who have experienced racism: Do you have any interest at all in ending it? I’m serious. Because I’m a white male, I’m often guilty by association.

Many white males are racist. I am not defending them. But if you look down on me only because of the color of my skin, you’re racist too. By definition. I can change my attitude, but I cannot change the color of my skin.

Can we have an intelligent discussion about that?

Probably not, because there’s another issue at work here besides defining the terms.

Getting personal

I’ll explain this by quoting an article in the Aug. 20 edition of the (Elyria, Ohio) Chronicle-Telegram. The Avon Lake City Council was prepared to enact a law increasing the penalties for drivers passing a stopped school bus – until a resident, who’s also an attorney, objected, calling the local law unconstitutional. He claimed it was an attempt to supersede state law.

Well, OK. The attorney has a right to say that.

A city councilman didn’t think so. He said the local law had been reviewed by Avon Lake’s law director, then added, “I’m sure everyone is very familiar with his reputation,” referring to the attorney.

The attorney responded, “That’s a personal attack on me. I want him sanctioned. Discipline him, chair – or don’t you have the guts?”

Then this: (The attorney) spoke out several times at Monday’s meeting, talking over council members to the point police officers were called to keep the meeting civil. Following the meeting he was escorted out of Council chambers by police.

That’s the problem with civil discourse today. We can’t discuss issues without getting personal. Neither side can.

We must stick to the issues, and agree to disagree at times. There are ways to oppose a law without name-calling.

Rights

Perhaps we need to tone down the social rhetoric in public, and focus on issues of real government (federal, state and local):

  • Paying for and improving public schools.
  • Maintaining roads and bridges.
  • Balancing the budget.
  • Ensuring trash pickup.
  • Improving water quality, both in our homes and in our lakes and rivers.

These issues get lost behind abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, gun rights and other rights.

Right?

Who decides what rights are right?

Are certain issues topics of right vs. wrong? Which ones?

We answer that question differently, so we aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on much these days.

Here’s a thought. Let parents teach their children whatever social values they choose. In school, all children matter – because all children belong there. Teach them reading, writing and arithmetic.

Can we start with that?

Can we set up an educational system where every child has a chance to succeed, no matter who he or she is or what their background is?

It can be done, if all of us start with that question.

Believe

“Believe.”

Believe what? Everyone believes something. Everyone believes lots of things. We believe the sun will come up tomorrow, for example.

What do you believe in? Why?

Let’s talk. Not argue or curse, but actually talk.

Which requires two listening ears. By both of us.

Silent majority needs to be heard

The opposite of love is not hate.

Both are strong emotions. People with either love or hate care deeply about the issue at hand.

No, the opposite of love – and hate too, for that matter – is apathy.

I … just … don’t … care.

As a holiday weekend is concluding, I’m struggling with this. Perhaps I’m feeling emotional fatigue. Especially since I’ve never learned how to express my emotions verbally.

America the divided

Am I proud to be an American?

That’s a more complicated question than it used to be.

I am free to live where I choose, worship where I choose (or not), work in a career field of my choice (assuming someone would hire me), marry whom I choose, spend my free time however I choose …

Yes, this country offers many good things.

But not all receive those things equally.

This is the message of America today.

We hold up that ideal, but we aren’t close to it. We’re closer than we were a century ago.

Or are we?

Equality an illusion

evicted 2

I just read a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, which described the substandard housing situation in inner-city Milwaukee a decade ago. We on the outside think the long-term poor often choose to live that way, that if they would just get a job or education, they could pick themselves up by their bootstraps and improve their lives.

But that’s often not possible. The housing culture in the wonderful United States of America is designed to keep poor people poor.

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Rents are not much cheaper in poor areas than they are in the suburbs. The federal government subsidizes low-income housing for landlords, so they charge unaffordable rents in low-income areas because they can. And when poor people get behind on rent, far too often they get evicted.

The book follows eight families who faced this. Many of them made upwards of 90 or more calls and/or visits to rental properties to find a suitable place after eviction. Eviction is like a criminal record – often landlords make it difficult for the evicted to rent again.

And if the family, often led by a single woman, has children, that’s another strike. Kids cause damage. Teens do drugs and get into trouble. Claiming this, some landlords don’t want children.

And why are neighborhoods segregated racially? Because landlords make it so. They find creative ways to refuse renting an apartment or house to a minority in a “non-minority” neighborhood.

Us outsiders don’t get it. We can’t just throw a month’s rent at one of these families and think they are good to go. The issues run far deeper than that.

Are there any solutions?

The author suggests housing vouchers, which can be used in any neighborhood.

 

By and large, both public housing residents and voucher holders pay only 30 percent of their income on rent, with government funds covering the rest.

Evicted, page 302

 

Many poor people pay 70 percent or more of their income on rent, which means they often have to decide between rent and food, or rent and the utility bill. That’s why evictions are prevalent among the severely poor.

This problem is nationwide. In 2012, one in nine occupied rental households in Cleveland were summoned to eviction court (page 296). More than 10 percent of all renters in the biggest city near here faced eviction.

Do the rest of us even notice this? Even if we do, how much do we care? Enough to change public policy to improve the lives of the poorest among us?

Compassion helps, but compassion goes only so far.

Just ask the illegal immigrants at our southern border.

Standing for … what?

Pennsylvania Daily Life

And as we celebrated our nation’s birthday, I saw this at work in the way we treat our flag. Even the flag has become a racist symbol.

What does the American flag stand for, anyway?

Does it stand for all those freedoms we like to say we have? Does it stand for the bravery of our veterans and active military service people?

What else does it stand for?

And why do some people not stand for it at all?

When I see unbridled poverty, when I see far too much violence (there was a police shooting in our city last week), when I see broken homes as the norm … can I really celebrate living in the United States these days?

Are there solutions? Or have we given up the fight, given in to apathy?

We think only of ourselves. My rights. I can live with whomever I want, drive whatever speed I want on the highway, spend my money (or other people’s money) on whatever I want …

Without thinking of consequences.

Burying our dreams

We just don’t care anymore. There’s no bigger picture.

No ideals bigger than ourselves.

What is freedom, really? What did our forefathers live and die for?

Did they live and die to create the United States we have today? Is this the best we can do?

Can we learn to get along with each other again? To overcome apathy?

We like to throw around the word “hate,” but it’s often misplaced. Sure, there’s some hate out there, but I don’t think there’s as much of it as extremists on both sides of the political aisle think there is. Most of us, rich or poor, are just trying to live our lives.

Leave us alone, we are saying. Just chill out.

Maybe I’m mistaking this for apathy. Maybe we aren’t as apathetic as I think we are.

Perhaps we do care, deep down in our hearts.

We just don’t know how to show it.

Or, more likely, we’re not allowed to show it.

We get shouted down. The “hate” word is thrown at us if we disagree. The loudest voice is often the one that gets heard in this country.

Which is why I defended the United Methodist Church this spring for standing firm – as it has for more than half a century – to its convictions regarding homosexuality. As one voice swimming against the political correctness tide, I took some flak for that, but the discussion was excellent. Thanks again to all of you who participated.

The loudest, or even the most persistent, voice is not always the right one.

Sometimes, the silent majority actually has something to say.

We care. We really do.

But does that mean anything? Can the silent majority do anything with its passions and desires in this country?

Who’s listening?

Anyone?

Changing laws not enough; we need a new mindset

It happened again. Another school shooting with multiple casualties, this time north of Miami.

We’re getting good at knee-jerk reactions to these situations. We aren’t good at figuring out how to prevent them.

Grandma saves lives

A grandmother in Washington state, of all people, has the right idea.

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/grandmother-turns-in-teen-who-allegedly-planned-shooting/

The grandmother of Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, found alarming journal entries Tuesday at her home in Everett, Wash., according to reports filed in court. She called police. An officer pulled O’Connor from class at ACES High School, an alternative school he began attending in the fall, to arrest him, reported the Herald newspaper in Everett.

The Herald continued:

O’Connor wrote that he wanted the death count to be as high as possible so that the shooting would be infamous, according to court papers. He went into detail about building pressure-cooker bombs, activating inert grenades and deploying explosives for maximum casualties.

“I need to make this count,” O’Connor reportedly wrote. “I’ve been reviewing many mass shootings/bombings (and attempted bombings). I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes” …

On Tuesday police took a glance inside the teen’s room, saw two grenades and left the area to get to safety. Officers applied for a warrant to search the room. The high school was notified and O’Connor was arrested, reportedly carrying a knife and marijuana. A search of the home led to recovery of the journal, a rifle, the grenades, masks …

On Wednesday in court, deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf told a judge that O’Connor bought a rifle because it was the same style as a gun used by one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 …
School officials learned of the threat Tuesday.

“Our main thing right now is gratitude, especially to the grandmother,” said Andy Muntz, a spokesman for the Mukilteo School District. “That couldn’t have been easy for her to do. The Everett police also did a wonderful job. That combination may have saved a lot of lives.”

Warning signs in Florida

In Florida, reports say there were warning signs about the Valentine’s Day shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

I can’t say I was shocked,” Joshua Charo, a 16-year-old student at the school, told the Miami Herald. “From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

School Shooting Florida
A woman places flowers at one of 17 crosses placed for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior at the school, told The Associated Press.

“A lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” Eddie Bonilla, another student, told CBS Miami. “A lot of kids joked around like that, saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. But it turns out everyone predicted it.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/plenty-warnings-florida-school-shooting-suspects-past-missed-signs-154926468.html

“Everyone” predicted the Florida massacre, but no one acted on those beliefs.

The shooter remains responsible, of course. He will have his day in court, as the laws of our land dictate.

The teen in Everett, Wash., also faces a day in court, but not with murder charges – thanks to his grandmother and quick follow-up by the local police department.

The blame game

We can debate gun laws all we want. We won’t eliminate them from our country. It just won’t happen. Certain types of weapons can be outlawed and perhaps they should, but the teens in both cases this week obtained their weapons legally.

We can blame politicians, including the president and Congress, but they cannot legislate morality. They can change laws, but they can’t change hearts.

Studying the connection between mental illness and lethal weapons possibly could lead to ways to prevent some mass shootings from happening.

But not all. Not even close.

“I need to make this count,” the Washington teen admitted. How can we change that mindset? Where does that mindset come from in the first place?

A different mindset

My worldview provides an answer to these questions, but it’s not a popular one in today’s America.

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” … The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:12,13

We’ve had that mindset since the beginning of time. It’s not my fault. I screw up, and I blame you. You blame someone else.

And on it goes.

We think the world revolves around us, and we get upset when we don’t get our way, when someone puts restrictions on us – such as, you can eat from any tree in this beautiful, lush garden except this particular one (Genesis 3:2).

Why won’t we outlaw semiautomatic firearms? We don’t want anyone telling us we can’t have something. It’s that simple. The cost doesn’t matter. It’s all about what I want, or think I want.

Freedom. Liberty. My rights trump your rights. Damn the consequences.

We’ve clung to this value since we first walked the Earth.

When do the consequences become too much?

Will they ever?

It’s not about me, or you

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends …

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The Parkland, Fla., shooting tragedy took place on Valentine’s Day, the day of love. I wonder if that was a coincidence. Was the shooter mocking love by carrying out a supreme act of hate on that day?

Love, when done right, solves everything. Which tells us how far off from “right” we are when it comes to love.

Who hates those words from 1 Corinthians in the Bible? Is that not the definition of love at its best? If all 300 million of us in the United States followed the views of just that paragraph, imagine the problems that would disappear. Instantly.

It’s a mindset. Patient, kind, no envy or arrogance, respecting your views without malice …

Why is that so hard?

Many of us are clamoring for change to prevent further mass shootings from occurring. Yes, absolutely.

We can change laws, but until we change our mindset, serious crimes will continue. As will other situations that hurt people.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. There’s a bigger picture here, a much bigger picture.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

It’s time we grew up.

Featured photo caption: Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, appears in court Wednesday. He is accused of plotting to bomb and shoot classmates at ACES High School in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)