Finding Meaning

I’m very sorry it’s taken me so long to write another Real World segment. It’s not as if there’s been nothing to write about.  Indeed, much has happened since my last segment.   We learned that over 60 percent of school-kids in Texas are suspended or expelled at some point during their years in school.  Dictators in several nations in the Middle East were overthrown, and there is hope that democratic institutions will take their places. There was a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan. Osama bin Laden was found and killed.

But it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11 – and the mix of emotions that accompanied the day -- that compelled me to write another segment of The Real World.  I didn’t lose a loved one or personally know anyone who perished on that day.  Still, in ways that my own children had trouble fully comprehending, and to a degree only slightly dulled by time, I found the reminders of that tragic day to be quite moving: still-grieving relatives of people who died talking about how much their loved ones are missed...reliving the airplanes being flown into skyscrapers filled with living people, already knowing that some would leap to their deaths and that many others would still be in the towers as they collapsed…hearing the names read aloud and seeing the faces of those who perished in New York, at the Pentagon, in Shanksville…

For me, a particularly moving part of the anniversary of 9/11 was Paul Simon singing Sounds of Silence, a song that somehow captures many things about the human spirit: our individual and collective quests for meaning, the awareness that there are wrongs in the world that we often feel powerless to affect, the nagging recognition that our leaders may not be up to the task of righting those wrongs (Exhibit A: one of the summer’s ultimate fiascos, where American politicians postured and blustered their way to an utterly inadequate solution to the budgetary troubles in the U.S.), and the effect that feeling of powerless sometimes has on us: silence.

For me -- again, I didn’t lose a loved one on that horrific day -- the meaning of 9/11…the tasks that are before us...are to take good care of those left behind, to make sure those who were lost are never forgotten, and to ensure that such attacks never happen again. That last task requires that we understand the factors that gave rise to 9/11 in the first place and to decide whether our “intervention” will address those factors. For the past ten years, we’ve gone about that task in the conventional way: by trying to obliterate the perpetrators. Our leaders tell us that al Qaeda has been degraded, and that the killing of bin Laden and the absence of additional attacks within our borders are clear evidence that we have gained the upper hand.

And yet my Collaborative & Proactive Solutions instincts are gnawing at me. I was reminded, as I watched the replayed newscasts from 9/11, of another poignant image from that day: video footage of people in another part of the world celebrating the “accomplishments” of the hijackers. And now I wonder: will it truly be possible to prevent another 9/11 without fully understanding why those people were celebrating? Do they have legitimate concerns? Are their concerns less valid because of the appalling actions of the hijackers? Are there wrongs that are not being righted by the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq and the success we’re having in degrading al Qaeda?

For better or worse, these questions are left to our leaders, whose problem-solving skills aren't inspiring confidence in many other realms. The rest of us are left, I suppose, trying to find meaning in righting the wrongs that are within our own individual spheres of influence. In the case of Lives in the Balance, we continue trying to help people better understand and help kids with behavioral challenges...kids we lose all too often. We’re trying to right the wrongs we see by taking action when we become aware of circumstances in which behaviorally challenging kids are being treated in inhumane, counterproductive ways. We’re striving to be a voice for the kids and their caregivers. We’re not being silent. I hope you won’t be silent either. 

Ross Greene
September 20, 2011