21 years later yet it might as well have been yesterday. When a void is left as large as the tragedy of 9/11, the effects are lasting.
Tuesday’s podcast was titled after a question that I ask my students, “where do we go from here?” This question is more about analysis of your present circumstance than it is about predicting the future. I also try to get them thinking about their futures, however, through the use of an intensely personal example.
My dream is to contribute to the president’s speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of 9/11 when it happens in 2051. I’ll be 62 years old. With this goal in mind, career decisions become easy because I can base them off the benchmark of if it will help me obtain it and similarly I encourage my students to pick an anchor point for themselves.
The immediate fallout from 9/11, though, can be remembered one of two ways. The first is the intense sense of pride in fellow countrymen. A book I’ve referenced in earlier columns about the collapse of societal bonds, Bowling Alone by Harvard professor Robert Putnam, had been published the year prior and the 20th anniversary edition of the work spends a considerable amount of time detailing how tragedy reverses the trends of isolated individualism. We were a little more patient. A little kinder. And we never held our heads low.
However, a second sentiment swept the nation concurrently with our new found pride. Righteousness set in. It was now us vs. them, and even though the way we defined our “us” had grown significantly as we set aside petty differences to embrace our Americanism, it also made us quicker to condemn the “them.”
In a speech delivered in front of Congress nine days following the attack, President George W. Bush said a now infamous line, “"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
At the root of righteousness is the belief in good and evil locked in a zero-sum battle in which only one can prevail. Many of us are taught this is the way of the world, and certainly events like 9/11 are evidence that evil exists. But it is not the only way to view the world.
Morality is different from righteousness. Morality doesn’t strive for world peace, a prerequisite of which would be the elimination of conflict inevitably through the use of force, but rather embraces that conflict on the bedrock of principles. It doesn’t wish for evil to be eradicated but rather the implementation of accountability systems that ensures it is understood and moved beyond.
Citrus could use much more morality and much less righteousness. Our debates now stem from a deeply righteous place among sides who are convinced not only that they are right but that the other side is perpetrating evils, whether it be in the propagandizing of political agendas toward children or in the further marginalization of an already discriminated against portion of our population.
It’s not only debates over LGBT issues. Changing our perspective from righteous to moral on anything could help see through biases.
Mike Wright used his final day before 9/11 on Friday not to commemorate the day but instead choosing to write a piece intending to intensify a community divide much of his own creation against Sheriff Mike Prendergast. He believes the Sheriff is the evil in the county and that he alone can try to stop him through the use of commentary that misrepresents facts and stokes the us vs. him mentality.
His righteousness doesn’t allow him to see what is evident to anyone when numbers are presented objectively. The Sheriff’s budget ask amounts less of a millage rate raise than the commission’s decision to re-take control of EMS and less than the 0.2 of a mill needed for road resurfacing, which is going to be a recurring raise over the next five years whereas the Sheriff’s office is a one-time spike.
We can honor those who lost their lives 21 years ago, and the many others who made sacrifices since by never forgetting the sense of pride we had in the aftermath. But we can also serve our country and our county better if we set aside the righteousness and looked instead for what is the moral path forward.