Today marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. As you peruse social media, you will see deserving tributes to those who lost their lives, the first responders, and other heroes that rose to the occasion amidst a horrific attack on humanity. These tributes resonate with each of our hearts because of the selfless virtue that they commemorate.
To truly honor the victims and heroes of 9/11, we should reflect upon and recommit to living the principles they exemplify. In doing so, we will not only honor the memory of these heroes. We will make our world a better place.
The Primacy of Human Dignity
Above all, 9/11 reminded us of the value, worth, and dignity of every human. In the midst of a crisis, courageous men and women responded with an immediate and broad recognition that every life mattered and was worth fighting for. Heroes sacrificed their own well-being, and, in many cases their own lives, for the sake of others. As a society, we stepped up to protect life, most especially those who were most vulnerable. First responders rushed into collapsing buildings. Mothers and Fathers ran towards the disaster. Friends and colleagues took care of widows and orphans. The response was swift and immediate. In our heart of hearts, we knew what was right. Others were hurting and in need. We fought for the other person without regard or giving a second thought to letting any “differences” get in the way.
The Principle of Solidarity
The events of 9/11 reminded us that we are all in this together and that our lives are intrinsically interconnected. There was an immediate recognition on 9/11 that the attacks were not just an attack on New York City and not even just an attack on the United States, but a worldwide attack on humanity. 9/11 reminded us that we are all in this together.
I’ll never forget the emotional connectedness that I felt as I saw first responders from various cities across the country make their way to NY in order to assist in the aftermath. I can still feel the great pride I felt as sports teams in Boston and LA provided emotional support to their supposed “hated” rivals and how their fans honored the heroes of those events. This profound interconnectedness was natural and spontaneous. It flowed from an instinctive response to what’s truly important — our shared humanity.
The Principle of Subsidiarity
The events of 9/11 reminded us of the importance of allowing issues and contributions to be dealt with by the most immediate (smallest, local) body capable of doing so. Leaders and government bodies naturally arose at the local, state, and federal level, appropriately playing their roles in responding to the crisis and allowing others to do what they were best suited for.
Only the federal government could have scrambled the fighter jets in order to protect the skies. They rightly did. Only the State of NY could have deployed the National Guard as backup for first responders. They delivered. Yet, for the most part, federal and state authorities let local, municipal authorities take the lead in directing the immediate, on-the-ground response. It took a certain local knowledge and community connection to do so effectively. This approach empowered the heroes we remember to differentially contribute and make a difference in a time of great need.
9/11 was a horrific attack, but it brought out the best in humanity. Heroes rose to the occasion and, as a society, we lived the mantra “All for one, and one for all.” In honoring those who sacrificed, it would behoove us to remind ourselves of, and more importantly to live, these principles.