They litter the internet like millions of tiny squares of shredded paper flying through the air. Nobody wants to read yet another blog, article, opinion on the events of 9/11 anymore. But have you ever asked yourself why, exactly, do people feel this way now?
Whenever there is a catastrophe as cataclysmic as the events that marked the 11th September 2001, the aftermath is coloured by an immense humanitarian grace period for mourning. Humanity reflects, absorbs, contemplates, compartmentalises and compresses the impact it has made on the human consciousness. In this lifetime we have witnessed, over the last 100 years, some of the most unthinkable disasters known in history; two world wars, tsunamis, terrorist attacks….we’ve all read the news. And somehow, these things have become part of our personal history despite a large number of us being “non-participants”; everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 happened. We allow each other a period of grieving, some respite from the personal suffering that has inflicted many generations. In this way society is able to move on, having designated a resting place for the trauma in our memories whether or not we have found a way of comprehending what has taken place.
But let’s go a few sentences back to observe the way in which some people respond in retrospect….”we’ve all read the news”. I’m a great supporter of sifting the chaff from the wheat when it comes to information consumption. It appears that the longer we are alive, the greater the hill of instantly disposable information there is being made available to us. Rather a lot of it is, in essence, a garbling mess of inane drivel decorated and embroidered with soundbytes, tags and other such selling points. What we are living in today is a society driven to cynicism, thanks to the energy wasted in the disposing of millions of debates and discussions that are flung our way daily. Living on the Continent, I found this was a problem that few orators were unveiling before the sunken masses. This disaffection is explained by the majority as not “having the time” to contemplate empathizing with a lot of these stories. Why is that? When the family dog dies, empathizing immediately becomes second nature. Its personal impact makes us, human, again. Our “e-culture”, as I choose to refer to it these days, has usurped the organic mechanism we use to develop a personal response to hearing about something. The allegorical grapevine, once the speculation of small communities, is now a manically pulsating network of intertwined live wires, talking, talking, talking, 24 hours a day. When we no longer see the need to form our own opinions based on our own contemplations, we stop thinking for ourselves. And when we stop thinking for ourselves, respect is the first thing to leave the room.
I don’t really need to ask how many of us, when faced with tragic news in the world, turn the page, turn the corner, change the channel or, erm, refresh Facebook. Of course we live in evil times, which you’d only be unaware of if your house was built in zero gravity. But does taking a moment to care about a country other than your own, really equate to re-opening an entire wound to woefully grieve all over again? Is that what a moment of respect -honestly- asks for? Let us think about that for a moment. It is a tragic admission I make, when I count myself in the number of European people who skip past an entire evening’s documentary on survivors of 9/11, or the cause of the trouble in Darfur. This afternoon I did what I’ve heard some Britons say they do because “it’s good for you sometimes.” I challenged myself to watch an entire episode of ‘Inside 9/11’ on the Nat Geo channel, which documented the experiences of ordinary city workers inside the twin towers that morning. And viewing such material in America for the first time, I was left understanding what that “good for you” factor was pointing to. It gave me a fresh understanding of how this catastrophe affected the entire country I was now living in. That yes, there was every right that this affected every living American in the world. When we take a moment to care, to pay respect, we count other humans as our brothers. And it is this factor that releases us into being the conscientious individuals we used to be, back when the world still meant something to us.
Back in 2006 I met up with some old friends in New York’s Manhattan police force after London’s 7/7 terrorist bombing. When I explained the severity of what had happened in my home city, I was shocked to hear the response, “7/7? Ah, everyone wants their own 9/11 these days.” Needless to say, that was the last time I saw them again. Perhaps I have since forgiven these guys for their foolish, thoughtless comments. But if this little story incurs your wrath, your passion, I challenge you to stop and ask yourselves, how desensitized have I become to my own neighbour’s plight? For a few days, filter out the endless stream of opinion and allow yourself to show concern and respect for another country’s affliction. It really isn’t asking for blood. But it might just make you feel human again.