What Good Can Come from the Evil of the Terrorist Attacks?

The tragedies have made us look to faith, to our government, and to each other.

It has been amazing. "Today our nation saw evil," President Bush told the country on September 11. He reported that thousands of lives were "suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror." There has been blanket coverage by the media, with newscasters relaying every detail of the horrific events as soon as they were known.

Perhaps even more amazing has been the constant counterpoint that has often become the dominant theme: that from this evil, good will come. President Bush affirmed this truth, stating that the intended goal of the terrorists will fail; that the United States will emerge united, stronger and better after this carnage. Again and again the belief that good will come from this evil has been repeated by public officials, commentators, rescue workers, and ordinary citizens.

What good can come from this evil? The fact that we are asking this question is in itself a tremendous benefit. Every one of us faces problems and difficulties in our lives, some minor and some life-threatening. Because we have heard this axiom so often in the light of the tragedies of this past week, people today more than ever are confronting their own life situations asking, "What good can come from this?" What a tremendous shift of paradigms!

I asked a group of fifth- and sixth-grade children, "What good has come from this evil?"


"People are more generous," they replied. On television they had seen the professional rescue workers joined by volunteers, even though it meant they were risking their lives. The children were aware of the many ways people were working together to aid the victims and their families and the countless others whose lives were impacted in New York and Washington D.C. But they had also told me that people around them had become more helpful and generous. Was their observation correct? Yes! Several studies by psychologists have uniformly documented that people observing someone being a good Samaritan were more likely to help another person they saw in need. A carefully crafted, groundbreaking study by psychologist Jon Haidt found that spectators who simply observed someone who helped another received feelings of "elevation". What we have seen in the wake of recent terrorism bears this out.

People have had strong feelings of anger, hurt, sorrow, and grief because of the carnage. At the same time, in response to seeing the selfless acts and heroism of many, people have experienced feelings of elevation. The observation of the children was accurate. People across the nation are both being more generous and helpful and feeling better. The cruel acts of terrorists have had the unexpected result of creating a kinder more caring American populace.

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William Webber
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