We’ve changed. We can feel it in ourselves. We can see it in our families, neighbors and co-workers. We’ve discovered William James was correct when he said crisis shows us "how much greater our vital resources are than we supposed."
Historian Jakob Burckhard once wrote, "All spiritual growth takes place by leaps and bounds, both in the individual and in the community. The crisis is to be regarded as a nexus of growth." American citizens have proven Burckhard’s words true once again. In the recent days, we have grown.
The tragedy of September 11 has caused us all to take a hard look at our beliefs, reassess our values and review our priorities. We’re better for it. We’re stronger, more empathetic and more aware of the fragility and the preciousness of life.
I’ve been fortunate in my life to have traveled. I’ve visited many countries, met and talked with many people of different nations and cultures. I’m fortunate, too, because I’ve learned firsthand that what they say is true: "The best thing about traveling is coming home."
When speaking with foreigners, I’m inevitably asked to describe American character or the American personality. Maybe it’s because we’re a comparatively young nation, but I’ve always seen us as the world’s teenagers.
We have the boundless energy, strength and endurance of physical life in its prime. I’ve described Americans as independent, quick-witted, open, optimistic, generous, sentimental, freewheeling, bold and adventurous. Our youth makes us willing to change our minds and our direction quickly. We aren’t afraid of change; we see ourselves as the agents of change for that’s what youth is — change.
And, yes, like teenagers we can have a tendency to engage in excesses, to occasionally be cocky and full of bravado; maybe we’re a little too secure in the confidence that our seeminglessly limitless quickness and strength gives us. All of our positive attributes and youthful enthusiasm can lead us to sometimes feel invincible.
Although I’ve had this conversation many times abroad and at home with non-Americans, I never fail to end the discussion with a caution. For I’ve always believed that the world would be wrong to judge Americans only by our sometimes-youthful indifference and seeming love of excess.
When we’re called on to stand up, we do. We stand up without hesitation and with a steely determination that comes from knowing we stand as one strong, united voice.
That’s the stuff America is made of. That’s the way this teenager was raised.
On September 11th, the United States stood up.
It feels good to be part of this family.