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Reflections On 9/11 In 2020

by David Brock on September 11th, 2020

Pardon me from diverting from my normal writing on sales, leadership and business to reflect for a moment on September 11, 2001. It impacted and impacts each of us in very different ways.

First, on the evening of September 10, 2001, I arrived home from a 3 week business trip to Africa. I had been touring major cities throughout Africa with my client. We were setting up a major new distribution network, helping the distributors develop richer business plans, training them, positioning them to more effectively grow their and my client’s business.

Over the course of 3 weeks, I met and worked with 100’s of business leaders and sales people, all excited about the opportunity to build business. It was a fascinating experience, I discovered challenges I had never experienced before. For example, in Harare, meeting with the CEO of a company trying to figure out their “quoting process.” It turns out inflation in Zimbabwe was so high, that a quote could only be valid for 3 hours. How do you build a business, selling capital equipment in that environment? In each country there were challenges I had never seen in our work in other parts of the world. At the same time, I developed friendships with many of the people I worked with during those weeks.

On the morning of September 11, I was in my office, catching up on weeks of other work that had piled up. I had the news on in the background. Shortly before 9 am EDT, I started hearing news reports of planes flying into the World Trade Center. Everything stopped, Kookie and I became glued to the news reports.

Not long after the reports, I started getting a flood of emails. They were from people I had met over the previous 3 weeks. They were alarmed–many knew I had lived in Manhattan, thinking I was still there, wanted to know if I was safe. Others were worried about what was happening and if they could help. Most were Muslim, and many were worried the actions by a few would be misinterpreted and generalized to all of them.

All of them were worried and cared. Over the next couple of weeks, there were dozens of calls, hundreds of emails, each of us trying to make sense of what had happened, each of us reaffirming our friendship and relationships.

September 11, 2011, had a much deeper meaning for Kookie and I–as it did for most in NYC. We had spent so much of our time in meetings in the World Trade Center. Windows on the World was one of our favorite after work gathering spots. We had attended conference after conference in the meetings rooms at Windows on the World. And on September 11, a number of friends, colleagues, and former customers perished, doing the same thing–going to work, going to meetings. Our family and friends in NYC had colleagues and friends, either those working in the WTC or the emergency responders that died on that days or in days later. Today, I see their names etched in the memorial that occupies the former footprint of the WTC.

In the days and months following the events in NYC, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, seemed to start bringing us together. Not just those directly impacted, but everyone in the country and with other nations. Despite differing backgrounds and beliefs, we seemed unified in working together. We came together in our grief, looking to recover, understand, learn, rebuild and go forward. Somehow, we reconciled many of our differences, at least temporarily, and became more unified.

Some say the events of September 11, 2001 are the most unifying of our lifetimes.

As I reflect on those acts of coming together, it was less a result of what our leaders did, but more each of us recognizing the humanity of what had happened and taking actions to reach out and help. What I experienced with the friends I had developed in Africa was not a result of any national initiative, but people caring for each other and seeking to help or express compassion.

And each September 11 since then, we pause to reflect, and seem to come together for a few moments of remembrance.

This morning, September 11, 2020, I reflect on that day, 19 years ago and the days and weeks that followed. Then I look at what we face today. We are in the middle of a the worst global and health crisis in at least 100 years. In the US, close to 200,000 have perished as a result of COVID 19.

We are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Thousands of businesses have closed their doors forever. Many forecast it will take years to recover.

In the US and in other places in the world, we are facing a social reawakening, recognizing decades, perhaps centuries of discrimination, injustice, and division.

Yet in this time of crisis, on this September 11, we aren’t putting out differences to the side. We aren’t trying to figure out how to deal with our grief, how to make sense of what we face, how to move forward together.

Unlike September 11, 2001, we are increasingly divided and polarized. We are not looking for solutions, but to assign blame. The problem isn’t one of a particular political party–it isn’t a Republican or Democrat problem. It isn’t a problem of the “tribes” to which each of us belong.

It is something that has happened in our societies. We are unable to listen to differing points of view. We are less willing to recognize and understand differences. We are focused on assigning blame and declaring someone else wrong.

This polarization divides us further. This polarization prevents us from understanding, making sense of what’s happening, and moving forward to solve them.

The greatest way we can honor the memories of those family, friends, colleagues that perished on or as a result of what happened on September 11, 2001 is to come together as we did then.

Perhaps the greatest way we can respect and honor those millions of people impacted by the tragedies we currently face is not through division, but through displaying the same behaviors of coming together that we displayed 19 years ago.

It is not what our leaders do or say that will help us recover and move forward. It will be the acts of each of us, putting aside our differences, seeking to understand. It will be the results of millions of acts of compassion, caring, and seeking to understand.

It would be wonderful on September 11, 2039 to sit and reflect on how we were able to put our differences aside, how we were able to demonstrate compassion and caring, on how we sought to understand and unify for a common purpose in moving forward in 2020.

It would be wonderful on September 11, 2039 to be able to say the events of 2020 drove the most unifying actions we have ever experienced.

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  1. Janice Mars permalink

    David, I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Green Charles H. permalink

    Beautifully said, David, and so true.
    Thank you.

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