As many of us have, I have been spending time talking with friends and co-workers about yesterday's tragedy. My thoughts and feelings echo those I have heard from others, so I know my experience is not an isolated one, but it is not a pleasant one either, as one would expect during such a time.
My feelings right now are feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and hopelessness. This mirrors the feelings of others I have spoken with among my friends and my community. I feel anger at those who did this, and the fact that they are nameless and faceless is also a source of more anger, frustration and fear. I feel afraid, not for my immediate safety, but afraid of the unknown future which lies ahead. How many more lives will be lost or harmed? What sacrifices will we be expected to make, and what elements of our prized lifestyle and freedom will we have to give up?
I feel shocked and also a bit disassociated. I feel a bit hollow, for the true enormity and scale of the tragedy has not sunk in and I feel dread that it soon will hit home more squarely. I feel guilty for being a survivor and having friends and family on the West coast who are for the most part NOT injured or grieving. I feel lost in trying to understand the true scope of the events. Even on seeing the buildings on fire and collapsing, I feel a sense of "unrealness", like it is a bad dream from which I expect to wake soon, and I feel denial, like it is a bad action movie and not really a human tragedy.
Let me shift gears and talk about some of my beliefs. I believe people are basically good. I have believed this before today, and today, my belief has been shaken up a bit but not changed.
I believe that people will usually do what is in their own self interest, but when given an opportunity, people will also do things that are beneficial for their family, friends, community, country or world. People will often act in "selfless" ways, doing things that delay or deny their own gratification for the sake of others, more commonly their friends or family, but also for their community at large. Such choices can range from "small favors" to "heroism", but most everyone raised among other humans is capable of it. Day by day, I observe the "goodness" in others and in myself, and this reinforces the belief that people are basically good.
I also believe that humans, if given a choice, will not seek to intentionally hurt others. This belief is a little more shaken today, however. I have observed the undeniable effects of people's efforts to harm other people, and have not yet come to terms with its effects. Until now it has been convenient to believe that other people do not want to harm me, because it allows me to go about my business and not constantly fear what others might do to me.
I think we all have some "expectation" or "belief" that others will not intentionally harm us, or will not go out of their way to do so, anyway. At some point we have a level of "trust" of others, even if we have never met them. For example, most of us trust that other drivers will stay on their side of the road, or that clerks will give us the correct change, etc. We implicitly trust people we don't know, on a regular basis, to varying degrees.
So the belief that others will not intentionally hurt me is partly based on repeated observation, but also is a "convenient" belief that allows me to go about my day-to-day business and not live in fear. I have been proven wrong in this belief a couple times, but never as seriously as this time. Even though it may be proved wrong from time to time, I have still continued to believe that people will not intentionally hurt me. This is probably something that I will continue to believe and "have faith" in, because it is an important part of my world view and has served me well for quite some time. Despite the sheer magnitude of yesterday's events, I will still continue to trust people as often as not; it took a long time to learn and will take much more than this to un-learn.
Having said that, I now have some new fears to deal with, some of which may outweigh my basic "trusting" nature. For example, like most folks, I will probably feel some fear when travelling by plane, or when going to high-rise buildings, at least until I get some additional positive experiences behind me.
Here is another belief: I believe people are usually capable of acting thoughtfully, and with some effort can confront their emotions and set them aside in order to do what they believe is right. I believe emotions are important indicators of what is going on in our lives, and they are an important part of how we judge and remember our experiences, so something we feel good about is judged a "positive" experience and something we feel badly about is judged a "negative" experience. Many times our emotions are so strong that we lose our connection between "reason" and "action" and act out our feelings instead of acting out of thoughtful consideration and the conviction of our beliefs. But, as humans we have a choice NOT to "act out" our emotions, like animals usually do, and instead we may choose actions that are "right" and "proper" despite our emotional feelings.
Emotions serve us well, whether they be fear, sadness, anger, joy, contentment, pride, etc. I think of these as the lights and dials on the instrument panel, by which we can evaluate our own state of being. In a car, we might see a light that says "oil pressure low", and our usual reaction is to try and figure out why. It does no good to try and argue with the light, or cover it up, or ignore it, or blame the instrument panel, or become embarrassed or ashamed of our awful indicator lights.
By the same reasoning, a proper response to "feeling angry" is usually to try and figure out why I am angry, what may have caused it, what (if anything) I need to do about it, and how I can avoid the situation in the future. I do not usually try to deny that I am angry, because if I ignore a feeling it often comes again, stronger. I do not usually act out the feeling immediately, either, because that would short-circuit my thoughts and beliefs. I find I am best able to deal with my feelings by acknowledging that they are there, trying to figure out the real cause, and to talk it over with others whom I trust and care about. Then, I consider carefully whether there is action to be taken, and carry it out.
Talking about feelings with others is important. It allows you to compare notes with others who we trust and to get valuable "reflection" and "confirmation" that what we are feeling is normal. This is especially true if you have strong feelings about a certain person; if the person is important to you or is someone you care about, sharing your feelings ABOUT that person WITH that person is important to establish an honest/open relationship. Sometimes, just talking it over with someone is all you really need to do! Not every emotion will demand an action from you in response.
It is also important to me that I take responsibility for my own feelings. I am not always in control of how I feel, but it's important to remember that someone else didn't "cause" me to feel a certain way - I chose that reaction (consciously or unconsciously). Those who I care about and trust are in a "power position" which means I have given up a bit of control to them, but even then, I am the one who has to deal with the feeling, not them. I am the one who will have to explain my actions later and be held accountable, whether I acted based on an extreme emotion or based on thoughtful consideration, it is still my choice.
I have often had the experience of reacting quickly and emotionally to a situation, and later regretting my actions. I have also had the experience of waiting, wanting to act and deciding not to, and later being glad that I didn't react immediately. So, if I have learned anything from my collected experiences on the planet, it is that the "emotional" reaction is not always the best one, and that it is extremely important to separate the emotional reactions from the thoughts and beliefs. This is, in my view, what makes us human and what gives us our power, so we should use that power as often as possible.
Now that you know some of my feelings and beliefs, let me share some thoughts on the current tragedy.
One of the most important decisions we will make as a community, nation, or world, is how we should react to these extreme events. I believe that it will be extremely difficult to set our feelings aside and choose a "thoughtful" response... but like any situation, time will pass and we will come to terms with our feelings and become better able to deal with them in ways other than "acting out".
I think we stand at a crossroads, and we will look back on this time for many years to come and wonder if we acted properly. Others in later generations will judge us based on what we do now. Will we later feel pride in how we handled ourselves, or will we come later to be regretful or even ashamed of what we have done?
I have no specific suggestions or guidance as to what to do in a situation like this. Only time will tell if we will be admired or sharply criticized for our actions during this dark time.
I have heard from many, many folks who have angry or vengeful feelings, and who feel that we need to act switfly and decisively to serve our goals. To those I would say, try to remain calm, find someone to talk to, etc. These are certainly very real feelings and they probably run quite deep. Observe the feeling and talk about it, but don't let the emotion alone make any decisions for you.
In light of the serious and deep nature of our wounds and of our feelings, the only thing I can suggest is restraint, followed by careful thought and soul-searching, and to save our action for a time when we are really, really sure.
In the shorter term, it is much more important to rally together, support each other, talk honestly about how we feel, and above all, exercise restraint and careful thought. Now more than ever we need to think carefully and act wisely, based on our beliefs and the strength of our convictions and what we know is right, rather than reacting out of the depth of our anger and desparation.
In a time when all we can see around us is a war, here is my personal wish for peace.