late September 2001 (This was John’s first ever op-ed piece)
A Letter to My Fellow Citizens:
Seeing Opportunity in the Tragedy
John Renesch © 2001
My fellow citizens:
The terrorist activity of September 11th is being met with mixed responses. On one hand there’s an unprecedented alignment of sentiment behind the flag and the President with a strong desire for revenge, suggesting that some of us harbor as much hate as the terrorists. Then there are those who just abdicate to the White House and say “whatever our leaders do is okay.”
And then there are many still-silent people who are thinking to themselves “there must be a better way.” This letter is for you.
Hate came to visit us on September 11th and it left many scars. Many who were alive a few weeks ago are now dead. Shock, anger, fear and grieving are all happening in these days following – all natural emotions for such an appalling tragedy. Why did all these people die? Is there any meaning to this carnage? What will be the legacy of those we lost? What would be the legacy each of them would have wanted?
Ask almost any person what they would like to do with their lives and they will tell you something like, “I would like to make a difference of some sort.” When asked how they’d like to be remembered, many will say, “I’d like to think I helped make the world a little better place.” These are normal desires and hopes that the vast majority of American people have in their hearts. It is hard for me to imagine that these same desires and hopes were not residing in the hearts of those who died. Have you ever heard someone say, “I want to be responsible for killing people”? Or, “Please start a war on my behalf”?
There is talk about “honoring” the dead, so their deaths “will not be in vain.” But much of this talk is steeped in a desire for revenge, retaliation, and wreaking havoc against the perpetrators. If we want to truly honor those who were killed, let’s work together to bring about a legacy that THEY would like – a legacy that honors THEM and not OUR own rage and OUR aberrant need for vengeance. After all, HATE IS OUR REAL ENEMY. Anger is part of the human experience. It is a natural, healthy emotion. But hate is learned and fostered. People are taught to hate, and it is passed on from one generation to the next. Hate results from harbored, suppressed and un-experienced anger that festers and leaks out in righteously destructive ways like we saw in New York and Washington, DC.
Hate kills people, not anger. Anything we have learned, we can un-learn, which presents us with an unprecedented opportunity.
Indeed, there is an opportunity here, among the rubble and stench and misery. In the midst of this horrible tragedy, in the midst of all the pain and anger that we are feeling, we have a collective choice. And this choice is a BIG one. We can start down a new path toward a much better future or we can add to the perpetuation of escalating violence by trodding down the same familiar path we know so well.
We have been jolted out of our complacency and had our hearts opened in a way that we might have never done on our own. It took this scale of a disaster for us to come together with open hearts and re-visit our true humanity. While we are still reeling from this horror, there is a “window of opportunity” to transcend the hate that has become so apparent to so many of us in recent weeks. Transcending the hate can take place if we seize the moment and respond to this enormous tragedy in a whole new way. Before we return to “business as usual” and crawl back into our busy, crowded complacent lives, let’s seize this opportunity, and honor our fellow citizens by making a conscious choice – a conscious choice for a better world, a better future for ALL of humanity.
What would this better future look like? What can we create? We can create a future where we honor our emotions and don’t rush to action in order to avoid them. We can create a future that holds everyone accountable for their actions, thus preserving a genuinely civilized society – demanding true justice that includes total accountability and personal responsibility for all the world’s citizens. We can create a future where real freedom comes with this responsibility – where people’s choices have consequences which they can own without blaming others. We can create a future in which we truly honor diversity, recognizing the enormous value of differences in the world. We can create a future in which all religions are respected and we truly have “liberty for all.” We can create a world in which we are proud of our national heritage, love our country, yet care about the entire world as our extended community rather than taking solace in perverse chauvinistic patriotism. We can create a future where we stop rationalizing war by blasphemous claims that God is on our side.
Let us honor the thousands who have died by ending some cycles that we have become accustomed to – cycles that border on mass addictions, such as our propensities to go to war and flex our military might even when wisdom and experience tells us it doesn’t really bring about a sustainable peace in the world; let us end the cycles of retaliation that honor our own hate and revenge instead of the lives of those we lost; let us end the cycles of arrogant rhetoric that incite people to join in brutal and vindictive acts, even in the name of God and the American flag; let us end the cycles of insanity where we become “enemies” with yesterday’s “friends” who we recently funded and trained, simply to justify our collective need for vengeance; let us end the cycles of refusing to learn from our own mistakes, repeating deeds that we’re familiar with despite their unwanted outcomes; let us end the cycles of killing and violence that have now touched our own shores, recognizing that greater numbers have died elsewhere because of our own politics and insecurities; let us end the cycles of mass denial and realize our own role in creating this condition in the world; let us end the cycles of never-ending retributions that seem to be going on incessantly, whether or not all of us are aware of them all; let us end the cycles of thinking “us” versus “them” and enter an era of realized “connectedness” and spiritual union – a union we profess to honor when we pray; let us end the cycles that allow terrorism to keep going, that fuel the hate and animosities that are harbored by so many people in the world.
How do we end these cycles? What can we do? We start with ourselves, each and every one of us. We can stop thinking that it is all up to “them” (our President, the Defense Department, the State Department, the C.I.A. and all the other “them’s”). We can “grow up” and start acting with a maturity and wisdom that is required if we are ever going to become an adult species and stop carrying on in our all-to-familiar adolescent-like behavior. We have authorship in the kind of world we want for ourselves, and our children, and their children. We have authorship in the kind of legacy that’s created for our dead.
Let us ask ourselves why we want to strike out? Is it really for those we wish to honor? Or is it because we think we might feel better somehow, like doing SOMETHING to take our minds off the terrible reality we are being faced with and to insulate our hearts against the depth of pain we are afraid to feel. We can ask ourselves, will our actions honor those who have fallen or provide hollow fodder for our own solace and consolation?
If we agree that there is this opportunity to end senseless cycles that don’t work and do it differently this time, we can talk with others and not let fear stop us from speaking out. Public polls suggest that most of our citizenry wants revenge but there’s a growing desire for a more enlightened approach, rising from the bosom of our nation through a sort of Internet underground. The network polls don’t pick up on these cries for sanity but as more people gain their voice, a call for a wiser more enlightened approach will be heard. But it won’t come from our “leaders.” It will come from us, you and me and all those like us who know something has to change drastically for us all the live in a better world. I urge you to join in and add your voice to those who are calling for an end to these cycles and a return to sanity.
If you don’t feel comfortable writing your own letter or making calls, forward this and other messages calling for a new way – a better way that our dead would be proud of.
This is how we can honor those who died. Killing other innocent people – even if done “legally” with a vast majority of domestic and global acceptance – keeps these cycles going, perpetuating violence and hate – the real enemy here. I sincerely doubt that those who died would have wanted this kind of future as their legacy.
Let us honor those who have perished so they might say, “Well done,” and smile down at us.
late September 2001 (This was John’s first ever op-ed piece)