As I reflect back i[on the events that unfolded sixteen years ago on September 11, it seems like only yesterday. Much like other historical events that one remembers (such as the moon landing, the evacuation of the American Embassy in Saigon, and Pearl Harbor), actually living through events makes them much more vivid than those you only studied in school. At this time, the majority of our students were not yet born when the tragic events occurred in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania on 9/11 and, despite memorial services, history lessons, and stories, these events are only a footnote in their own history. Try as we might, it’s hard for most people to find time to contemplate the ripple effect past events have on the present and future. This may be especially true for those who live in the moment or are strictly focused on the next big ‘thing’, even if that item has little or no impact beyond today (think of all the ‘crazes’ that you’ve seen such as pet rocks, chia creatures, or the latest stunt by some celebrity).
Despite an obsession with current events, the fabric of the past continues to sustain and support society as we move forward. We only have to look at the founding documents of the United States to see that the core structure continues to guide us despite the changes of history. It makes one realize that pithy statements such as, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana) have a wealth of truth to them, which reflect much knowledge, experience, and depth that are easy to overlook. This marks the importance of studying the past for more than just historical dates and places but rather for the impact events had on the present and future. One can argue that some events, as significant as they may have appeared at the time, are even more significant years later as they continue to guide us over time and are used, often obliquely, to set a direction for the future. While events unfold in real time, however, it’s difficult to know if it is a singularity or part of a pattern, of whether those citing reasons for moving forward are looking at this one item or are looking at a bigger picture ( ‘not seeing the forest for the trees’), or even more problematic, fixating on an issue because of the impact it had on an individual despite it not being relative to the majority.
As we select our newsfeeds (whether done intentionally by ourselves or done for us through algorithms); as we opt to live in communities segregated by economic status; and as we define ourselves by specific labels rather than by simply being human; we become ever more fractured, contentious, and myopic forgetting about the common good. Despite this separation, there is still hope as one sees people come together during calamitous times – wars, depressions, and natural disasters often seem to do the trick. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if we could use such positive events to overcome the dissension we face today on a regular basis? Perhaps John Lennon’s “Imagine” lyrics (“Imagine there’s no heaven…”) or even the words by Robert Fulghum ( “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”) are resources that we really need to help interpret history so that we too can practice the 21st Century Skills of Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity in a way that helps all of us, rather than just a select few. It seems that this could work at every level, from our own households, to our local communities, at the national level and even internationally, if in fact we could separate fact from fiction; use historical knowledge based upon the events rather than the view from the winning side; and concentrate on the protection of all for the common good.