Today is the 19th anniversary of the day we can never forget. September 11, 2001 was a defining moment for the new millennium. It was a defining moment in American history. That Tuesday morning in Lower Manhattan changed everything. 343 firefighters were lost that day. As Americans ran away in fear from the devastation, they ran straight into it. That’s what they did. That’s what they do.
September 11, 2001 was a day that brought our nation, and much of the world, together. It forced people to reassess things. It was the day that changed our lives forever. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day. They were fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters; They were family members. One of them was a friend of mine. I’m certainly not alone there.
With your permission, I’d like to share some thoughts. This is a day that always gives me pause. I find myself reflective of anything and everything. I was living in New York in 2001, but was overseas in September. I was on the first international flight that landed in America, once the airspace reopened. The security line at Heathrow took nearly 4 hours. Nobody complained. Nobody cared. It’s just unfortunate that priorities often only get wakeup calls and reality checks after tragedy. I suspect that’s human nature. We live in a busy, fast-moving world. Unfortunately, the togetherness formed 19 years ago didn’t last long.
2020 is also a defining moment for America and the world. The divide continues to widen. Our nation is perhaps as divided as ever. At least next to our Civil War. The political landscape reflects it. The economic environment reflects it. The social movements reflect it. This isn’t new. There have been some extremely dark periods in our storied history. Our nation has dealt with many issues, and each time, it’s come out better and stronger. America is far from perfect. It never claimed to be. We certainly face serious challenges today. There’s a lack of trust and a great deal of anger. Fortunately, it’s all very fixable. Maintaining a clear perspective and understanding other perspectives is critical. We’re going through the process. There are many similarities in history.
From the very beginning, this Great American Experiment was no guarantee. Our Founding Fathers knew that plain as day. A true Democracy had never been done before. But fearing the alternative, they gave it a shot. This American experiment, a mere 244 years old, needs work and collaboration. It requires vision, tolerance and patience. It is a cause greater than one’s self. Jefferson accurately declared what Americans really wished. It was Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That’s one cherished gift. From the pen in Baltimore Harbor held by Francis Scott Key, came the heroic sound that binds us; O Say Can You See. The experiment had its greatest test within its first 100 years. Abraham Lincoln, with the weight of the nation felt down to the core, was able to keep it together after saying Four Score. Two World Wars. A Great Depression. The bombing at Pearl. Lady Liberty proved time and again that she’s quite a girl. The experiment continued. It was nowhere near complete. More progress required it was deemed. More progress came when Dr. King shared his Dream.
America is fighting again. This fight is within. It’s been called a fight for our soul. Sure, America is far from perfect, but there’s no place better on Earth. People have raced to the safety of our shores for centuries, fleeing hardship in search of a better life. Our Constitution was written with the goal of forming a more perfect union, understanding that perfection is never achieved, but the constant pursuit of perfection is how greatness is realized. It’s always a work in progress. I will always remember this: Thomas Edison said he never failed, he just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. That’s genius.
The response to the Coronavirus could have been it; That moment where political, social, racial and economic divides got set aside for a greater purpose. This was a moment to unite as a nation. We declared war on the invisible enemy. But instead of coming together, it drove us further apart. The virus has exposed nearly every vulnerability our nation has. There seems to be a lack of respect throughout our society. Respect is more than a word. It’s a way of life. We Americans don’t always agree. Debates and disagreements are very healthy and ultimately make things better. We’re a melting pot for a reason, and that makes us better.
So often in life, we lose sight of what’s really important and take things for granted. People don’t truly appreciate them until tragedy hits. We can’t sweat the small stuff. But we can’t turn a blind eye either. Small stuff can easily lead to big stuff, and quickly. The September 11th attacks were a very dark day in our nation’s history. It was also a reminder of how special our nation is and how we can’t let hate and anger infect the American spirit.
Collaboration and compromise are negative words in Washington. Our society has become fixated on short-term solutions and instant gratification. There is very little long-term thinking and planning. This is certainly a challenge for investors, who are constantly looking for long-term opportunities for growth, but are very mindful of the short-term risks and issues we face daily. We Americans are in this together, hoping to enrich the lives of our families, friends and neighbors. Despite all the problems and issues out there, the American way still has no peer. When it comes down to it, that’s everything.
As a Market professional, a business owner, and an employer, it is so discouraging to see the constant politicking and perennial gridlock in Washington. As a student of American history and more importantly, as a parent, what makes things worse is the anger and divisiveness found 24/7 on social media and cable news. The anonymity and lack of consequence for digital insults is completely out of hand. It’s like a virus itself within our national community. The “Us versus Them” attitude has permeated our nation’s culture to the point that we have Americans claiming they love America but have a clear dislike for fellow Americans. It’s everywhere. Lost is the fact that these are real human beings with their own dreams and aspirations.
The Human element seems to be fraying. It seems to be a byproduct of the Digital Economy. I don’t need to tell you how everything has become so political. The greatest attention seems to be congregating around data, sound bites, and talking points. The loudest voice doesn’t always win. It’s as if the internet has become a crutch for true knowledge and understanding. It can bring out the best of us. But it also brings out the worst.
The good news is, it is never too late! As Winston Churchill famously said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after exhausting all of the alternatives.” That is by far my favorite among so many Churchill lines. He’s absolutely right. And this is another moment.
Listening is like a superpower, when properly used. These ears we have on the side of our head can do wonders to help connect our hearts with our brains. When I met with Ian Bremmer, he said something really interesting and profound. Well, he said a lot of interesting things, but this one, in particular, stood out. He said if you’re not listening to people you disagree with or dislike, you’re doing it wrong. I believe he is absolutely right. Relationships can come from anywhere. They often start with Hello.
Have a nice weekend. Let’s make sure we always let our loved ones know how much they mean to us. Let’s also remember how important firefighters and first responders are. They’re true American heroes.
Thank you for reading my thoughts on this significant September day. I hope it had a similar impact on you to read it as it did for me to write it.
PS Big Thanks to Carol in Santa Monica for providing this photo.