But the less obvious positive offshoots of 9/11 are just as compelling and perhaps more life-altering. A study of 4,000 people before and at extended intervals since 9/11 showed a measurable surge in seven character strengths that many participants have been sustained long-term. They include gratitude, hope, kindness, leadership, love, faith, and teamwork. The study also noted a boost in the majority of participants’ sense of preparedness for future crises and a heightened confidence in their perceived resilience that makes them feel less, not more, vulnerable.
Study participants also reported having developed new skills and abilities as a result of having dealt with the challenges of that day and its immediate aftermath. The combination of these new traits has led to positive and lasting life changes for many participants from personal relationships to professional choices to a heightened sense of community solidarity and activism.
Mike Berkeley is remembered for many things—his love of family, golf, good food, and a good laugh top a long, vibrant list. But he’s also remembered for his vintage turns of phrase, uttered with a mixture of conviction, charm and hilarity, usually on the golf course where the trash talkin’ with his boys never stopped. “Don’t worry about things you can’t control,” is one of them; 9/11 has made us all see the value in that. “Let me see your game face,” is another.
Born, bred, and still a New Yorker, I’m well steeped in the fine art of the game face. We all are. But only when those masks come off do we see the truth.
The truth is that we were all reshaped by the awful events of that day in many ways, some of which cause us to struggle even now. But we do ourselves and those we lost that day a disservice if we don’t also look at the positive changes.
Terrorist acts are designed to weaken a society and its individuals. But they can also do just the opposite. Their success or failure is beyond the control of the attackers, even when their targets are hit. It’s really up to us at the end of the day. If we thrive, they lose. If we nurture our solidarity and continue to do good and do well, we neuter them. If we emerge from our trauma better than we were before, we win.
We remain entwined in the overseas wars that grew out of 9/11 and they have to be resolved. But on this tenth anniversary, isn’t it time for us to finally commit to winning here at home, where this battle began? Wasn’t that very notion at the heart of President Obama’s jobs speech yesterday?
“These are difficult years for our country,” the president said. “But…we are tougher than the times we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let’s meet the moment. Let’s get to work.”
As Mike would say, “This is where the skills kick in…are you playin’?”