As I write this post, it is September 11, 2016. Fifteen years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a plane that crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside thanks to the heroism of passengers and crew.
So much has been said about how this event changed us. Indeed it has. Probably in some ways we don’t even notice. And one of the biggest is that it made the unthinkable not only thinkable, but real.
Before 9/11, it was unthinkable that someone would purposely fly an airplane into a building full of people. Now we know our assumption was based on a world view the terrorists didn’t share – that all human life is sacred. Now we know that those with a different world view will operate completely different from how we would, and sometimes go to any lengths to get what they want. We know that any place, any one, and anything can be used to kill and maim. Shatter our sense of safety.
What have we done with this knowledge – that there is no such thing as absolute safety? That bad – even horrific – things can happen at any time?
We’ve increased airport security. School security. Cyber-security. We’ve talked tough and built coalitions. We’ve told people, “If you see something, say something.”
Has it helped? Probably. Has it made us 100% safe? No. And in trying to make ourselves safe, this isn’t all we’ve done. Since 9/11, we’ve become more divisive, more angry, more fearful, and more segregated. We trust everyone less. And in the process, we’ve become less human.
Not all of us. But enough to notice. And enough that we see it in the escalating violence and political shouting that passes for discourse.
It’s not just noticeable with violence – this inhumanity. Treating flesh-and-blood people as though they don’t matter. It’s in the workplace too. We track metrics and efficiency ratios, and move people around like checkers. As if one is as good as another. That there's nothing unique about who they are. Then we discard them like yesterday’s fashions.
It tears at our trust. Makes people harden themselves, as if to prepare for what feels like the inevitable.
Is that happening everywhere? No. But enough to notice. And enough that 80% of US employees are not engaged in their work.
So what? What do we do? We can't un-know what we know. We can’t go back to a time of innocence when planes were just for flying, a school was only for learning, and when you had a job for life. We now know. We’ve seen it with our own eyes.
Well, we could hide. Insulate ourselves from as much as possible. Watch shows about rainbows and unicorns (or the masculine equivalent). Hang out only with people who believe exactly like us. We could pretend that none of this is real. But that only gives us a false sense of security. We know it isn’t really true.
We could complain. Rail against this new reality. Join on-line groups or associations with like-minded people, and join the chorus shouting at the injustice of it. And though it is important to speak the truth about injustice, merely complaining only makes us angry. Stressed.
OR we could choose to see that this isn’t the only reality. The violence. The hate. The inhumanity. The ugliness. We can choose to see the beauty amid all the rest. Those who listen with empathy. Who choose to love even when they are afraid. Who extend trust even when they’ve been burned. Who give to those they don’t know. Who lend a hand when you need it most. Who sing, dance, paint, take photographs to show a rich palette of humanity and nature. Those who start gardens on top of a blacktop. Who paint on bombed-out buildings.
They are everywhere – the people bringing beauty to this world. All we have to do is see. With our eyes and the eyes of our heart. And we can choose to be one who adds to this world's beauty. Beauty in art. Beauty in relationships. Beauty in the workplace. Beauty in political discourse. Beauty in the way we drive, shop, dine. Bring a more human self to create a more human world.
St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” As we see and bring beauty in the world, we awaken the best parts of what it means to be human. We become fully alive. When we act out of fear and mistrust, part of us dies. And we experience that collective death.
Last year I kicked off a free Beauty in EVERYday Challenge. Many of you took part. During that time we learned how to see the beauty all around us – with our imaginations, our memories, and even our cameras. I invite you to join me now. Even if you participated last year. I feel as though I could use a reminder. Maybe you could too. If you’d like to take part, click this link. You’ll be brought to a page that tells you all about it and how to sign up. And if you do sign up, why not bring some friends with you? It will be so much more fun together.
Whatever you do, wherever you live, let’s join together to see, experience, and add to the beauty in this world. For us, for our children, and our children’s children.
Please share this post so others may be encouraged to add to the beauty around them too. And if you want to join the conversation here, feel free to leave a comment.