It's hard to know how to begin to digest all that has happened this week, the tragic events that have led to so many deaths.
I've been reading some of the comments posted by our fellow Researchers. Most express shock and revulsion, as one might expect. But there are those who have chosen to say things like 'it served them right' and 'they had it coming', terrible sentiments that can only have come of not having seen enough of life to know better.
Whatever one's political or religious views, however one feels about the lifestyle choices of financiers and stock traders, one should be sensitive to the fact that what has transpired is a monumental human tragedy.
Comparisons to other events, like the oppression and death in the occupied territories, the tyranny and destruction in Tibet, or the slaughter of innocents in the Balkans and Africa, may or may not be valid. But they entirely fail to come to terms with the true face of human suffering and loss. Those who died or were maimed, those who lost loved ones, share the same pain as those who suffer anywhere, because they are human beings. The fragility of human life is the basis of all that we have in common, the foundation upon which our hopes and dreams arise. As terrible as the events of 11 September are, the real tragedy would be to lose sight of that, and reduce those who have suffered to mere symbols.
It saddens me that, when we have a chance to help, so often we choose not to. In the grand scheme of things perhaps what we do here is of little significance. But it is not entirely insignificant either. Each of us has the opportunity to be constructive, to add something to the forward progress of human life by raising the ethical standard in our own behaviour.
A part of that is choosing to set aside the satisfaction of being 'right' for the sake of those who are in need of condolence, of placing kindness and compassion ahead of dogma and politics. There may be an awful lot wrong with American foreign policy and, indeed, with the way that Western civilization has historically trampled on the aspirations of most of the rest of the world. But choosing to ignore the basic human tragedy of what has taken place in New York this week in order to attack American culture is wrong.
We have been given a chance to reach across cultural, religious, and ethnic divides; and it's a shame that more of us haven't noticed. I'm not saying that what is being argued is wrong, simply that it is wrong to argue. We should consider seriously how good it feels to make other people feel bad, and ask ourselves if we are not part of the problem.
I believe it is less positive at this time, in this venue, to be discussing blame and retribution than it would be to think in terms of how to contribute something towards helping those who have suffered this calamity.
In a general sense, perhaps it is less constructive to think in terms of 'who' and 'what' than 'why' and 'how'. That is to say, we may know who has hurt us, but we should ask ourselves why, and, looking beyond the short-term solution (or sense of immediate gratification), how we can work to resolve our differences. This means looking beyond slogans and symbols towards a future in which people can co-exist in peace.
Asking 'why can't we all just get along' isn't silly and one shouldn't be ridiculed for asking it, because therein lies the answer to our current dilemma. For the present, however, we should ask ourselves how what we write affects those who read it, and concentrate on helping those among us who may benefit from a little support.
It seems to me that the way we interact in venues such as this is another aspect of human relations, no more and no less than high diplomacy, terrorism, and warfare. There is much that is hateful in the cyber-world, but also a great deal of good has come of the opportunity to freely exchange ideas with those we would otherwise only know as the two dimensional caricatures depicted in the media.
What's important for us is to do what we can to preserve the sense of commonality and shared values with the people we are tempted to call enemies. And the first and most obvious way of doing that is to turn up the empathy values of our monitors when we interact with other Researchers. Instead of pontificating about American foreign policy, when you have the chance to relate to an American Researcher, find out what it feels like to be an American at this time. Similarly, take the opportunity to learn from our friends living in the Middle East. No matter who we are, we may encounter differences which cannot be reconciled. But, in the final analysis, we are all human beings, whose basic needs and desires are the same.
International politics and the choices of nations is reflected in what ordinary people, like ourselves, say. But what we say also contributes to the shape that international relations take. We are tiny specks in the big picture, to be sure. But, tiny as we are, we are the parts which make up the whole.
It is vitally important that we are willing to embrace difference and look for constructive solutions to the world's problems. We should ask ourselves why we choose to talk about war and grand strategy (like a game) when we have the opportunity to relate to each other as human beings. We have to identify that our own short-comings are a significant part of the global problem. The first step towards a better future is wanting one, and nothing is to be gained by pessimism. Both are self-fulfilling prophecies.
There are lots of people about who are still capable of putting aside their personal likes and dislikes, their pride and their prejudices, in order to see the world through someone else's eyes. And, in this time of destruction and despair, this is something to take courage in, to celebrate. Even the television news coverage has shown us the depth of compassion that people of all kinds are capable of.
The pain of those poor souls, standing in line with photographs of their loved ones, is enough to break your heart. But those people also show us the strength that human beings are capable of in the face of adversity. Theirs is the true courage, more than the grim-faced politicians and the hawkish proponents of revenge. They have looked disaster squarely in the face and allowed their love and compassion to flourish. They are facing this disaster on human terms, and have no need of symbols or slogans.
The challenge for the rest us is to face their pain and courage without turning it into a symbol of something else, without taking the cowards way out. The fight against terrorism is important. But the first battle in that war is with ourselves.