In September, we reached the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. Flags flew at half-mast, pundits pontificated, and Americans watched replay after replay of airplanes flying into the World Trade Center.
Our world changed forever on 9/11, in ways we are barely beginning to understand. Yet what, really, was the meaning of that dreadful day? And what does it mean to us today?
To some people, perhaps, it means the world became more dangerous, more threatening, more terrifying -- and the only security and peace we can find will come through armaments and defense. In a country that spends 43 percent of the world's military budget, in a country that has nearly one-fourth of the world's prisoners, Americans may think that our security and our peace depends on the ability to fortress, arm and protect ourselves -- and to punish the bad guys. That's one form of security. And indeed, in the last 10-plus years, U.S. military spending has nearly doubled.
But some of us also believe in the resiliency of the human spirit to respond to violence, injustice and horror with something else. Not that we just put ourselves at the mercy of villains, play nice and sing Kumbaya to Al Qaeda. But perhaps there is a way that we can stand with dignity, courage and integrity for the highest aspirations and possibilities that we can find in each situation we face. Life brings to all of us an abundance of pain, trauma and struggle. That's a reality that we all face on this earth. Yet how we respond to it is part of what uniquely defines us as human beings.
What if, in addition to hunting down terrorists, we also asked: "What are the root causes of terrorism?" Is it really that humanity is evolving toward ever-greater freedom, peace and prosperity -- and there are some evil-doers who would stand in the way of that evolution with nothing but hatred coursing through their veins? Why are so many people driven to such levels of anger and desperation that they are willing to take their own lives in order to inflict harm, as martyrs, on us? Do we stand, in their eyes, for freedom, justice and goodness? Or do they actually believe they are fighting an evil invading empire -- that we, in fact, are the bad guys in the arc of history?
Some folks may be insane and are probably not capable of reasonable dialogue. But Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told us, "You have no moral authority with those who can feel your underlying contempt." When we write off whole populations with contempt, do we lose our moral authority in the process? Is it possible that we are fueling, not just fighting, the root causes of terrorism?
There are alive today many people who are choosing to respond to hatred, violence and suffering by trying to bring something else into this world. The Peaceful Tomorrows Network is a coalition of people who lost loved ones and family members in the attacks of 9/11, and yet who are fueled, in their grief, by a commitment to a more just and peaceful world for all people. They write, "The lesson of 9/11 is that we live in a connected world. We rise or fall together. Let us honor those we lost by recognizing our kinship with people all over the world, and affirming the values and principles that will guarantee peaceful tomorrows for everyone."
After the events of 9/11, huge crowds gathered for candlelight vigils in Tehran, as in many other places around the world, to express their sympathy for and friendship towards the U.S. In fact, a minute of silence was observed before the start of an Iranian football game -- in front of 60,000 people. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is said to have donated blood to the Red Cross, to be sent to the U.S. There was a tremendous outpouring of caring. Although much of that global goodwill may have worn thin over the last 10 years of war, I believe there is always the opportunity for healing and regeneration.
It starts with honoring the resiliency of the human spirit to rebuild, renew and evolve. I look at the potential that we each have to move on from suffering and violence to find another way. It is that potential, to which I dedicate my life.
On the anniversary of 9/11, I spoke at a peace conference. I talked about what this day meant to me, and about what I think it might mean to our world.
What does it mean to you?
Ocean Robbins is an author, speaker, facilitator, and father, and an adjunct professor in the Peace Studies department at Chapman University. To learn more about his work, to invite him to speak at a school or conference, or to get a free copy of his mini-book "The Power of Partnership," visit www.oceanrobbins.com. To learn more about his family's journey with autism and miracles, click here
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