I was born after this significant world event and event shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy. I do remember the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (1986) but the event that I think has held the greatest opportunity to shape a generation of Americans in my adult lifetime is 9/11.
If you were of age to remember this event, you remember where you were when you learned of the tragedy. You spent the day and subsequent days, following the news broadcasts. You noticed that there were no airplanes in the sky – didn’t notice planes so much before, but really noticed when they were missing. And you may have felt somewhat bonded together with your fellows – classmates, coworkers, neighbors – like never before.
In the time immediately following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, which hastened the United States involvement in World War II, there were a number of changes in our nation and its people:
- A sudden pivot in our manufacturing capabilities from cars and other hard goods to planes and tanks
- Young men setting aside their near-term futures in exchange for a uniform and the opportunity to serve, perhaps coming home a hero, or not coming home at all
- Women entered the workforce in droves, and in “nontraditional” roles and industries like manufacturing
- Rationing began so that we had the raw materials needed to support our troop’s efforts
- Nations were bound together over the cause of a common enemies
And many more things changed. Those of our “Greatest Generation” were forever changed, their character forged by the difficult times of sacrifice, the ever-present fear of a changing world they couldn’t control. Through this shared experience, they became financially conservative, hard-working, humble, reverent and willing to “take one for the team” when the going gets tough.
How would you describe subsequent generations?
Although we seem never to want to invite crisis, it can have a unifying effect on those involved. We saw this in the time shortly after the events of 9/11. People were bound together over a common cause, shared pain and fear. The world was just not quite as safe a place as when we went to bed on the eve of September 10, 2001. We stepped up security in our airports and increased the intensity on those we deemed to be involved in the specific attacks. Many people turned to faith to find answers and comfort. All of these things are natural responses, good responses, to tumultuous times. But is there a lasting impact?
If there is one, legacy hallmark of a crisis it is unification or division. Sometimes, crisis causes parties to disagree and walk away from one another. In the other instance, it serves as relationship “glue”, holding people together that do not have shared backgrounds, perspectives, religions or world views. Yet this latter group hangs together over an agreed belief and commonality – that the sum of the parts is always greater than the whole.
We seem to be experiencing greater polarization and disintegration of “us” in recent years. More violence, more racism, increased homelessness, overcrowded prisons, political debates in which it seems no one is listening to the other side and many other measures of a society that one might use to gauge our common success as a team. And we’re failing.
We can boil this down and make it personal.
Are you willing to waste the pain of 9/11? Or allow those events to shape you into a compassionate, hard-working, respectful, team player?
Your grandparents hope you say “yes”.