America is a nation of optimists. That’s one of our best qualities in good and bad times. But we should not let optimism trump realism.
Polls suggest Americans believe the worst is over in terms of terrorist attacks against the United States. I fervently hope that the worst is over. But prudence, not to mention common sense, doesn’t give us the luxury to believe it.
New York’s mayor, Rudy Guiliani, has been pitch-perfect in his response to the attacks. He says people have a right to be fearful, but that they should recognize the slim likelihood of being a target themselves. We take risks every day we awaken in this world. We don’t let the manifest dangers of driving prevent us from going to work.
This is an open society. It is open to some kinds of attack, because of the nature of the society, which is why there may be terrible inevitability of new attacks. Close everything down, and we’ll still be vulnerable — and we’ll destroy our economy in the process. That’s what the terrorists want, and that’s what they may get when and if they pull off another attack.
At a conference a year ago, one of the speakers talked about something that stayed with me — and now resonates more than ever. He noted that modern society gives a single person or small group enormous leverage to create harm. So true, and so troubling.
Going to work and getting our families back on a somewhat even keel are absolutely the right things to do. Returning to business as usual seems wrong, somehow. This is a good time for an exercise most of us don’t do — reassessing our lives.
This isn’t a suggestion to go live in a cave and meditate. It’s an invitation to look deep inside in coming days and weeks. If we like what we find, all the better. But it’s never too late to start changing the parts of us we don’t like so much. Life may be short. But as long as we draw breath we should live it fully.
Note: Guliani is reportedly thinking about trying to stay in office through a change in NYC’s term-limits law. Big mistake. He’s been a great mayor during the past two weeks, but he should be respectful of the law. Sudden changes in law are almost always bad, as we’re seeing with the anti-liberty anti-terrorist provisions the Bush administration is trying to ram through Congress before anyone has a chance to think it through.