Nine Eleven, Ed McCaffrey, Stephen Covey and me

Tuesday’s horror was preceded by Monday Night Football

I went to bed feeling sick the night of September 10, 2001. My sports hero was Ed McCaffrey, #87 and Denver Broncos wide-receiver, general nice guy and spectacular athlete. During that night’s Monday Night Football game against the NY Giants (boo!) Eddie Mac had suffered a broken leg. “In sustaining the injury, he made a spectacular catch and did not fumble the ball.” 

I had trouble sleeping that night, reviewing in my mind over and over again the play that made my own leg hurt, made me ache for Mr McCaffrey, as well as his wife and children who surely saw it happen. I must have finally gotten to sleep because I then slept through my alarm and was late to work. Still feeling bleargh about poor Eddie Mac, I loaded 5 month-old Tessa into the car to drop her off at my mom’s on my way downtown.

The comedy radio show I listened to was uncharacteristically somber. The DJs were known for doing some wild stunts, but pretending that two planes had hit the twin towers was unthinkable, even for them. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was news, not a stunt. I tamed the freak-out that was roiling inside me and called my boss, who told me not to come in to work as our office was right across the street from Denver’s own World Trade Center — twin towers of 50 or so stories, dedicated to international business.

Relieved of duty, Tessa and I continued to my parents’ house. My parents and I, like the rest of the country, were glued to the TV, unable to turn away from the horror, destruction, bravery, loss, the sheer magnitude of all of those things.

Finding unity from duality?

A few weeks later, I introduced Dr Stephen Covey to a couple of thousand people who attended his leadership speech, sponsored by my organization. I had gotten to spend a little time privately with Dr Covey prior to the event, and I was supremely excited to get his take on 9/11. I was seeking spiritual guidance from him, something to counter the Us/Them Good/Evil rhetoric I was hearing from other thought leaders. My hopes were high — Stephen Covey was the one who brought to me the message seek first to understand, then to be understood as part of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I wanted a way to frame 9/11 as an event that was sparked by the worst in people — a feeling of separation and anomie so great that suicide and mass murder seemed like a good plan — and which consequently brought out the best in people — we are all familiar with the stories of heroism, of the people who played the hand they were dealt that day with courage and sacrifice and honor. I was looking for some way to reconcile the opposites, something to encompass everything in between, to see that the organism we call Humanity, while seemingly a bunch of separate beings, is, in reality, One. That the more the parts recognize they are components of the One, the less hurting of itself the parts will do.

I was sorely disappointed. Dr Covey declared early in his presentation that, simply, there is Evil in the world.

I think this is the easy way out. I think it’s much more difficult to try to understand what made such acts possible. I did not get that wisdom and insight from Dr Covey that day.

So let me tap into your wisdom and insight. How might seek first to understand; then to be understood work on such a massive scale? What would that understanding look like? Could the simple act of seeking to understand  bring a “peace that passeth all understanding”?

You may say I’m a dreamer.


36 thoughts on “Nine Eleven, Ed McCaffrey, Stephen Covey and me”

  1. Learning how to *unlearn* is harder than learning is in the first place.

    How might we seek first to understand, then to be understood? We have to understand ourselves objectively and identify our prejudices before we can *unlearn* our prejudices. If we can’t understand ourselves, the we will never understand others. We surely can’t ask to be understood by others if we lack an understanding of ourselves.

    This is the challenging crux of it all; misunderstanding on levels so deep that results in terrorism and violence are of the sort that is deeply rooted in long-established societal mores, over-zealous religious ideaology, and ethno- and egocentrism so concentrated that it is impossible look within oneself enough to be objective. Therefore, looking outwardly onto the world with the purpose of understanding others is difficult to make happen.

    But, I’m a dreamer, too. Unlearning *does* happen. If it didn’t, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s wouldn’t have accomplished anything. The gay equality movement would be headed nowhere. My dream is that the unlearning happens faster than the cyclic learning of hate-based beliefs, and that the unlearning happens before another tragedy on the scale of 9/11 (or worse) happens.

    1. I am so glad you pointed out some situations in which unlearning did happen, understanding took place, and two sides came together.

      Excellent point, too, about understanding ourselves. I remember once reading a religious passage that said something to the effect, “You can barely, at any point in time, know your own motivations. Be hesitant to judge those of another.”

  2. I think about this a lot, because I truly do not understand an agenda that seeks to kill those who disagree with it. Those who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks were not looking for acceptance or validation of their ideas. They were looking to cause pain, destruction, devastation. I cannot figure out what the gain from that intention would be. I suppose that Al Qaeda declared war (on whom, I’m not entirely sure). I suppose the attacks on 9/11 were a war strategy. But when those attacked do not even acknowledge or know that they are supposed to be fighting a war, how can there be any kind of peaceful resolution?

    Rather than saying that there is Evil in the world, I would say that you just can’t reason with fanatics. We have the luxury of not having experienced a challenge to our way of live at any time during this generation. The last time there was any sort of major challenge was the Civil War. I suppose that this makes us unable to comprehend that disagreement over a fundamental issue means that we should go to war over it. Our role has been police of the world – we don’t instigate fights (not directly, anyway). Even our involvement in WWII was in response to an attack – we didn’t truly address any of the moral issues involved.

    I wish that there was a way that understanding would bring peace. But, when parties seek only absolute adoption of their ideas, understanding their point of view has no meaning.

    1. “I think about this a lot, because I truly do not understand an agenda that seeks to kill those who disagree with it.”

      But that’s my point. I doubt that the HJs thought, “We are fanatics and we just want to kill those who disagree.” From their standpoint, the strategy of suicide/mass murder was the best one available to them.

      Having lived overseas (in the Middle East among other places), I do remember the sensation that America looks different from the outside than it does on the inside. What if, instead of taking the “They’re Evil” shortcut, what if we tried to see what they saw? Feel the path that led them to do what they did?

      Is it possible that just the act of us doing so might diffuse some of the anger and rage? Being heard and understood can be such a gift, a disarming gift.

  3. I wish I had good answers for you, but I don’t truly understand what drives people to make the decisions they do. How they can be so unwavering in their vision that they can conduct such plans. That humanity doesn’t seep in or affect them.

    I wish he had given you something else to go on.

    1. I think what I have been trying to get at is that we can’t understand people well from our own viewpoint. We have to be willing to see THEIR viewpoint to understand the seemingly understandable.

      I suspect that the HJers and planners thought they were on a humanitarian mission. But they are concerned with different humans than we are.

  4. I am a dreamer too Lori and I have great difficulty understanding why and how those responsible for the tragic deaths on 9/11 became people capable of committing such acts.

    I am also a fan of Covey and his 7 Habits and am disappointed to hear that he didn’t have more inspiring and helpful comments to share that day.

  5. Yes, you’re not the only one.

    Dr. Covey reinforced duality, gave it strength.

    Interesting you should write this. I’m thinking a lot about Oneness lately. And it seems very fragile in the face of something like 9-11. But my guess would be that
    9-11 is a consequence of the logic of duality, as is fanaticism. It is a compelling logic too. Oneness seems like a still, small voice.

    Love you.

    1. “Dr. Covey reinforced duality, gave it strength.”

      Yes! As they used to say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. My inner voice tells me that moving from Duality thinking is the only way to solve this. More duality will not.

  6. I think it’s a question we have all struggled with since Sept. 11. The why. Why would any human do what the terrorists did that day to other humans? I have come to somewhat of peace with it through trying to be empathetic with the terrorists. Did they really feel so unheard, so much anger towards America that they didn’t see us as fellow humans but evil against their views? Their views and acts were not justified or right that day but I wonder what they must have felt to feel that this was their answer. I was saddened watching a documentary yesterday that showed people in Times Square right after the planes hit the towers saying we needed to bomb them and wipe them off the face of the earth. I know this was a quick reaction, but our collective reaction was to ensue violence against them and kill them. You are right, evil is the easy answer. Finding a stronger, better solution and answer is the right path.

    1. And the only way we can get to the Why is to walk in their moccasins, see the situation from THEIR eyes, where their actions made perfect sense.

      Because we are so horrified by the attackers, though, we are repulsed to go there. Yet that is where the answers lie.

  7. Sometimes the best attempt at unlearning and the most effective change can be in the education of future generations. Each of us has the power to influence the minds of children who respect us (especially our own!). The way forward is not only to seek to understand others and practice oneness, but to then teach a new approach to the younger generations.

    To truly “walk in their moccasins” you have to understand that so many of these terrorists have been stripped of their right to think independently, many having their beliefs controlled (hijacked if you will) from birth by people deeply steeped in many generations of hateful thinking (extreme duality). Those who have willingly entered into these extreme beliefs have often done so from a place of rejection and emotional weakness, unquestioningly embracing religious rhetoric that boosts their ego with acceptance and promises of great glory in return for their independence, loyalty and ultimately their lives.

    America may have lost sight of many beliefs that others in the world hold sacred, but we were founded on independent thought and it is our duty and privilege to help our children understand the power of forming and protecting their *own* beliefs based in compassion and oneness (even if they differ from our own)! This is not easy to do, especially when we as parents hold our own religious or political views dear.

    When our children ask us about the events of 9-11, or the shootings at Columbine, the day’s headlines, or simply why other people wear what they do, we must teach them (model for them) compassion for the accused, acceptance and tollerance for those who are different than they are, and an understanding of the dangers of duality.

    To answer your question, seeking to understand can only *begin* to bring about change by itself, but combined with a movement to model for our children a new way of thinking, it can have profound results!

    1. “When our children ask us about the events of 9-11, or the shootings at Columbine, the day’s headlines, or simply why other people wear what they do, we must teach them (model for them) compassion for the accused, acceptance and tollerance for those who are different than they are, and an understanding of the dangers of duality.”

      Yes. Yes.

  8. Your post is timely for me too. My hubby is studying at the U.S. War College this year, so his homework and reading all center on the science and philosophy of war.

    At the same time, I just started my Master of Arts degree in Transpersonal (Spiritual) Studies. My first class focuses on several topics including meditation and the profound effects it can have on me and on my world. So as quickly as Tom is filling his brain with “war” information, I am filling mine with “peace” information. A balancing of sorts.

    Some of our conversations have focused on the purpose of war at all. And we have very different viewpoints/perspectives. His seems more dualistic while mine comes from seeing the oneness and unity of all (but even that statement alone implies duality:). It seems to come down to a core belief about separateness vs. oneness (again duality).

    Just today, one of my good friends, Laura, posted a link on my wall, “2012 A Message of Hope.” Here is the link in case you’d like to check it out:

    Last week (after one of our war/peace conversations), Tom invited me to attend a lecture on the philosophy of war, in an effort to help me to better understand why there is a purpose for war.

    I made Tom a deal. I’d attend the lecture if he’d watch the 25-minute video mentioned above. He agreed. Hopefully we’ll both learn something from this and bring oneness to what seems to be a topic of duality…in our home and in the world.

    Thanks for posting this provocative writing. I was disappointed by Covey’s reply, but perhaps, he is human too. :)

    1. What an interesting dynamic going on in your home this year! I think you two are well-equipped to study the two sides of the war/peace coin and unify them in some way.

      I love that you are both open to seeing what the other is learning.

  9. OK, so I guess my problem is this. Barring all other issues of culture and morality and religion, I can’t get past the fact that killing other people is bad. If you’re not starting from that view point, I have a really hard time in seeing your side. I expect that to be a basic human idea. I don’t think I can subtract that from my point of view.

    I understand that America has done some pretty awful things in the world. I understand distaste for our government’s policy. But I don’t really understand attributing that to every person in America. Maybe it’s just a case of overgeneralizations? Al Qaeda attributes all the ills of America to every American? Therefore, every insult was personally committed by every American? All are responsible, so all should pay for it? That, I can kind of understand…but the killing thing still escapes me.

    1. I suppose it’s that old dichotomy of traitor vs patriot. If you lose (because history gets written by the victor) you’re the former. If you win you’re the latter. The situation — including killing — looks different depending on which side of the table you’re on. In one case it’s murder and indefensible; in another it’s self-preservation and somehow reasonable.

      You’re giving me a lot to think about. Thank you for this, A.

  10. Oh this post breaks my heart all over again for you, for our country, for our world. Your desire to understand helps heal my heartache a little though. Thank you for this post and for reading and commenting on my post. You’re comments/questions really got me thinking. In fact, on Wednesday you’ll see a follow-up piece. (Hope it’s okay to link to this post in that?)

    But let me just say this now. Unfortunatly, I think that Mr. Covey is right. There is evil in this world. But thankfully, I don’t think that’s the end of the story. To stop there is missing the whole point of the “seek first to understand” instruction in my opinion.

    I think we are ALL guilty of evil. Every. single. one. of us. But, thankfully, there is no evil out that falls out of the grasp of grace. When we become aware of our own need for grace, we can extend it to others.

    I don’t think grace means we don’t disagree. We don’t pursue justice. I just think it informs how we do those things.

    May we all see the world through grace-colored glasses!

    1. “But, thankfully, there is no evil out that falls out of the grasp of grace.”

      Very interesting to follow this idea. I know in my heart that this may be true for even Hitler, Pol Pot, Klebold & Harris, and others who have caused large-scale destruction and pain. But in my head, I have trouble seeing how. How does justice fit with grace? And what is the role of grace as we grapple to deal with 9/11?

      I think you are on to something. But I can’t quite see the way through it.

      Where can I get a pair of those glasses?

  11. Thank you for sharing your story, Lori. I work in an office that practically worships Covey. Personally, I could take him or leave him. I wonder if the sheer enormity of 9/11 was even too much for him to take in? And I wonder what his take is now, 10 years later?

    And I don’t know if I have an answer to your question, either. His Habit: seeking to understand, than be understood – it really boils down to listening. But even when we listen, our hearts and heads cloud with our own set of self-perceiving judgments and biases. And that clouded vision makes it harder to respond with genuine openness.

    As dark as this sounds… I don’t believe in world peace. I just don’t think it’s a realistic, attainable thing. I believe in a just world, but not necessarily a peaceful one.

    1. “our hearts and heads cloud with our own set of self-perceiving judgments and biases.”

      This gets back to what Kym said. That we must be self-aware of our own lenses in addition to trying to see through another’s.

      You’re making me think about the relationship between justice and peace. I think I carry the assumption that the former is pursued to bring about the latter. So if it were possible to have a just world (using some universally agreed-upon definition of “just”), would peace follow?

  12. I must have missed this post when it first came out. I’m disappointed in Covey. He was a big influence of my husband at his B school.

    My take on evil is that there are a few people in history who are pure evil: Hitler, a bunch of his lieutenants, Charles Manson, Bin Laden. Trying to understand them is probably fruitless. But for the followers of them, that’s a different question. What in their lives brought them to the point of following such a person? And what can we do to prevent better situations for people like them, so there are better choices they can make in the future.

    Really tough questions.

  13. Okay, here is my follow-up post where I go into more detail.

    I try to think of the small, everyday situations first. Can you feel how your whole energy shifts when you experience being “wronged” – by someone cutting you off in traffic, for example – when before you respond, you first think, I am no better than this person.

    Sometimes that awareness will lead you to let it go (like the traffic example). But sometimes, it will just inform how you respond.

    That thought has the power to take away our first impulse to respond in anger. It slows us down. It gives us space to think and respond from a place of calm.

    I hope that makes sense. My heart is with you as you grapple this really tough stuff. I admire your effort and hope the world responds in turn! May we be the start of a grace revolution – you and me, Lori. Let’s do this!

    1. I do see how it works in everyday situations. It’s what we are teaching our children — to slow down, to breathe, to respond rather than react.

      Off to read your post. Thank you for your thoughts on this important topic!

  14. So this response is a few weeks late, but what I thought when I read Dr. Covey’s statement about “evil” was, no, there’s a lot of hurting in the world. Hurting begets hurting, just as healing begets healing.

  15. A few weeks ago at my lefty liberal Episcopal church, the minister gave a sermon called “The Devil Made Me Do It.” (It was an item auctioned off at our annual fundraiser, in which the winner got to pick the sermon topic, and the winner in this case was a woman with a sense of humor as strong as her faith.)

    What we expected to be a rather lighthearted talk was, instead, exactly about what Dr. Covey said: that there is Evil in the world, and to deny its existence is to deny your ability to counteract it through your own actions.

    I don’t know, even 11 years later, how to understand the forces that made the hijackers do what they did, and I’m not sure I ever will. What I do know is that I can take actions in my life, every day, that put Good into the world instead of Evil. That’s what all of us can do.

  16. That’s an interesting question and one that I have tried to come to terms with. I have been unable to. I have really tried to understand that type of hatred. I have tried to understand the kind of anger that motivates people to commit horrific acts, but the truth is that I don’t. I don’t think there is a way to understand it.

  17. This post is so profound, as are the comments. Like Keiko, I would be interested to know if Covey had a different take on it after having more time to process it, since it took me years to work through my own thoughts. We could learn a great deal by seeking to understand the mindset of the terrorists. Nothing could lead me to the conclusion that what they did was right, obviously, but they had reasons… based on life experiences or their collective understanding of what our country has done or stood for or was attempting to do. Maybe the powers that be in our government understood the complexities of that mindset, but I certainly didn’t. From my vantage point, we tried to eradicate it without asking why it existed, and that makes me nervous that we only fueled the fire. You may say I’m a dreamer too. Or in the words of the lyrics I chose for my post: this is just a test. Take it with love and you will pass.

  18. I never read this post … but I’m glad I did today. And funny how the post I finally wrote on 9/11, though not exactly about 9/11, was also about the connections we make in crisis.

    I think you’re a dreamer. But I also think that some dreams can be made real.

  19. Here from the future via Time Warp Tuesday and appreciate the opportunity to re-read this post, as well as to revisit my own comment/perspective on it this time, last year.

    I really like Nancy’s comment/point of view today:

    “I don’t know, even 11 years later, how to understand the forces that made the hijackers do what they did, and I’m not sure I ever will. What I do know is that I can take actions in my life, every day, that put Good into the world instead of Evil. That’s what all of us can do.”

    Heading back to the future to see where you are today on all of this.

  20. Here from the future via Time Warp Tuesday again, this time with the theme being “peace.”

    I recall feeling frustrated reading this story the first time around and appreciate the questions you pose at the end. This one especially applies to our Time Warp discussion this week:

    “Could the simple act of seeking to understand bring a ‘peace that passeth all understanding’?”

    I believe that seeking to understand is a good place to begin to try to forgive and find peace. I came across this article recently which talks about the process of forgiveness, without advocating that we forget:

    Let me know what you think and thank you for linking up to Time Warp this week!

  21. Ahh..but you did learn from Dr. Covey that day. We live in a world that wants to sugar coat, tolerate and have everyone be a winner. But the truths: not everyone wins and evil exists. How to combat it? Don’t ignore it. Learn from it. Stay far away from it. Replace good for evil. Have faith, hope and charity. And never give up.

  22. I think Dr. Covey got it right. Whatever the causes, motivations, prejudices of the attackers … there is no way of understanding it, at least for me, other than that evil exists.

  23. I don’t have all the answers (especially for an enormous thing like evil, 9/11) but I read a good book by Scott Peck (People of the Lie) which basically makes the point that evil is being lazy. He talks about parents that don’t want to make the effort with their kids. So by extension, 9/11 could be that the terrorists are too lazy to problem solve their issues, they would rather just blow things up and kill people.

  24. Sometimes I think that evil exists, and other times I think that untreated mental illness and cultural issues/grudges is at the base of “evil” acts.

    True sociopaths, like Ted Bundy, are rare – are they evil, or are they sick/.broken, with the thing inside people that lets them empathize and care about others simply left out of their brains/hearts, like a missing puzzle piece? (Not that I think we should slobber sympathy and resources on these people; IMO we should identify them and put them where they can’t hurt others.)

    But what about holding grudges? It seems for most of recorded civilization, there have been people “getting even” with their neighbors, neighboring tribes/countries, for hurts that happened decades or even centuries prior. It this “evil”? (Or is it righteous when our own group does it, evil when it’s done by somebody else?) IMO, dismissing these patterns as evil is too simplistic, and doesn’t move us toward STOPPING these things.

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