So, we're planning this Interfaith Peace Walk for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. And we send out a press release, and a reporter contacts me and says he's doing a story about the declining level of compassion and unity in the years since 9/11 brought us all together, and can he ask me a couple of questions? Here's how the exchange went:
Him: Why does it take a tragedy to bring us all together?
Me: We humans are creatures of compassion. We see another’s suffering, we recognize it as in some sense our own, and we respond with kindness, concern, respect, and generosity. This is built into us, it’s how we are able to do community. But most of the time we’re distracted from our common humanity—we feel separate, we think our suffering is special, we don’t consider the suffering of others legitimate. Until a tragedy strikes that we all in some way experience—through news coverage, through personally feeling the tragedy’s impact or knowing someone who feels it, whatever. In the days following 9/11 we recognized each other as suffering the same pain, fear, and loss, and our compassion took over. In time we went back to feeling separate and not well understood, and we returned to feeling alienated from each other. We forgot that common thread that unites us.
Him: What happened to all that unity [we felt in the days following the attacks?
Me: Well, see above. But there’s more. Because the stories we hear and see most often are about difference, division, and conflict—how Republicans disagree with Democrats, how Muslims hate Christians or Jews, how the poor resent the rich, how the rich think the poor want a free ride, and on and on. Stories of unity, of bridge-building across persistent divisions, don’t get the same kind of attention—even though they’re happening every day, in communities all over the country. Take our Interfaith Peace Walk—and Better Together, the year-long interfaith community building campaign of which the walk is a part. The walk and the campaign tell a story of all kinds of people working together to make the campus and the community better--and judging by the numbers and enthusiasm of the people who want to participate, it’s a compelling story. But I’d be very surprised if we make the cover of Newsweek.
I liked my answers, so I thought I'd share them with you. If you like them, you should think about getting involved with our Better Together campaign at Ohio University. This is our year.
-Rev Evan Young