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.
Suddenly things have been put in a different perspective. As we have listened to reports of the last conversations from the hijacked planes or the twin towers, we have been reminded of the importance of families. Not just the families of the victims. We have been jolted to a new awareness of the importance of our own families. Even when we knew our family members were not in any of the cities where the destruction had reigned, we felt it was important to call. A teen told me he was aware that those in his home had become more sensitive, more caring. Parents were trying to find the words to explain the events to their children. For many, this was the first serious conversation families have had for a long time. Sometimes words failed, and the family members were silent--but there was a togetherness in their silence. One mother told me, "We sat on the floor, just holding hands and praying. It's the first time we have done that."
A nurse in the cardiac intensive care unit observed a great difference. Usually many of the heart patients are in denial about the seriousness of their condition, but as they watched the continuing coverage on television they were impressed with the suddenness of life and death. Patients with tears in their eyes began to deal honestly with their own mortality in a healthy way, speaking openly with the medical staff about their concerns, rearranging their priorities, and accepting the necessary changes in regimen.
In villages and cities across America there are new feelings of community. Many people told me that neighbors are talking to neighbors with whom they never passed the time of day. In the office, people who were barely acquaintances are showing concern for each other. Neighborhoods are pulling together. There is a new sense of camaraderie. Flags are being flown from houses and on autos. Candlelight vigils are being held. Donors spend hours in line to give blood.
There has been a new national unity. Democrats and Republicans are working together in a common cause. People at every level are pulling together. Despite frequent warnings that the war against terrorists may be long and require sacrifice, the response of people in general is that Americans do better in hard times. In the face of the prospect of fewer material advantages, they see a return to the more basic moral and spiritual values.
Americans are a religious people, with the overwhelming majority professing faith in God. During this time of national emergency the houses of worship have been filled. Those in grief have found solace and comfort in faith. Others have found strength and courage to face an uncertain future. And it has not only been individuals and communities of faith that have turned to religion. In a real sense it has been a national response. The nation watched as the leaders of the country gathered in the National Cathedral for an ecumenical service. Billy Graham and other religious leaders sounded a call to righteousness as well as the benefits of trust in Almighty God. A national Day of Prayer was observed. Clergy of all faiths were prominent in the news coverage. Many believe this may be the beginning of the turning of a nation from materialism to a new spirituality.
There has been a tremendous international response. In this time, when the United States was seen as vulnerable, nations of the world have responded. In our time of need, envy has been replaced with sympathy. Especially since the citizens of many nations perished at the World Trade Center, this event has been seen not only as an American tragedy but also as a global problem. No program, however worthy, has brought so many nations together as the need to combat global terrorism.