From Complacency to Activism: My Lessons Learned from September 11

Yahoo! is asking Americans how September 11 changed them. Below is an account from a reader.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, it would be fair to say that I was complacent. The idea that the United States would ever be attacked — even by terrorists, was completely foreign to me. Pearl Harbor was something grandparents talked about, something from history books. The last terrorist act I could recall in the US came not just from a fellow American, but someone from my home state of Michigan.

And then:


Like most people, I was shocked. Confused. Angry. Terrified. I turned on the news and stared at it for weeks, months maybe. Come to think of it, I haven’t really stopped. It would be fair to say that the events of 9/11 led me to be less myopic, and more concerned. I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t kept up with world news very much, even when I knew there were wars happening all over the world. Before the attacks, I simply found world news depressing, and I didn’t see then how any of it affected me.

I learned.

[Your story: How has September 11 changed you?]

I watched as our free country started imposing warrantless wire taps, unsanctioned invasions on foreign soil, and torturing people who had not even been formally charged with a crime. I was even more horrified to see the awful things that were being done by the very people we relied on to keep us safe, free, and living the kind of lives we’ve been taught Americans ought to have. I wondered what else had been happening while I wasn’t paying attention.

I learned that hate crimes on American soil aren’t just a bygone remnant of the pre-1960s South. I learned how readily frightened people could be coerced into abandoning the freedoms they believe in for the illusion of safety. I learned that hate came easily to an awful lot of people I didn’t expect to feel that way.

More importantly, I learned that many, if not most Americans are willing to speak out for the things they believe are important. Political activism in American has largely moved out of the streets and into our laptops, our smart phones, our e-petitions, and loosely organized chat rallies. Activism in our country has brought about some of our most enduring improvements, and I was heartened to see that it continues to do so. The events of 9/11, however horrible, painful, tragic, and enraging, have helped many of us to become more proactive. The willingness and capabilities of Americans to improve the lives of others is staggering. I was reminded of the sacrifices, the astonishing bravery, and the purposefulness of so many Americans.

I like to think I became the kind of person who reads and watches the news objectively, weighing it against other news sources, and with what I already know to be true. I like to think that I’ve become diligent in helping where I am needed: boxing up clothing for disaster relief, collecting blankets for the local shelter, donating to causes whenever I am able. I like to think that I’m much more cognizant of the effect all of my actions have on others.

Ultimately, the events of 9/11 and all that followed impress upon me the infinite impact that each of us can have on the world around us. Each of us has tremendous capacity to do good, or not. It’s up to each of us to choose who we want to be, and how we want to live. Looking back on the events of 9/11, I am reminded that while we may have infinite opportunity, we do not have infinite time.

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