Like most, I can remember almost exactly what I was doing during great historic moments. I was at home in Pittsburgh, watching a small black and white TV while my mother ironed and the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series in 1955.
I was in 11th grade in high school, waiting to change classes on a Friday afternoon, when news rippled through the hallways that President Kennedy had been shot.
And I was sitting in a conference room, doing freelance writing for a small chemical firm in Cleveland, when the president of the company told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center — and then asked what should we tell employees as the TV accounts made it frighteningly clear that what happened wasn’t an accident.
I also recall the focus on heroes — the firefighters and others who demonstrated character and patriotism through their deeds and actions. And I remember how the nation — for all too brief a time — came together with a common bond centered on this tragic event.
That idea of working together as a nation for common purposes could have been the legacy of 9/11. But no. The acrimony you see now — in Congress, town hall meetings, on the shows with the talking head TV pundits and so on — is much greater today than pre-9/11.
As a nation, we really have lost the idea of civility.
Joe Wilson’s shout-out — “You lie” — wasn’t just ignorant — it was rude.
Gail Collins has an interesting take on this in her NYT column, “So Much for Civility“:
Let me go out on a limb and say that it is not a good plan to heckle the president of the United States when he’s making a speech about replacing acrimony with civility.
And I’ve mentioned previously in this blog that in 1996 I had the opportunity to help John Ong, then BFGoodrich’s CEO, write the commencement speech he gave to graduates at Ohio State. The talk was titled “On Civility.” Here’s what Ong said:
Always be civil. It is really quite easy. Treat others with respect and observe the conventions of social behavior that we call good manners. Always reflect on the effect your individual actions are likely to have on others and on society as a whole. Be prepared to sacrifice some of your or your group’s cherished goals if you perceive that their continued advocacy is having an adverse effect on our social fabric.
Accept full responsibility for your own actions and insist that those around you — including your children — do likewise. Develop a sense of duty to your community and your fellow citizens.
And Ong ended his remarks by saying:
We can all agree that our society today has many problems and weaknesses. I suggest that we cannot address these, for the most part, by either legislation or an expansion of individual permissiveness. Only a resumption of civility within our country shows promise of providing relief from our social ills.
A return to civility. That would be a great tribute to everyone as we reflect today on the events and meaning of 9/11.