Friday, September 11, 2009

Authenticity – A Personal Assessment 8 Years After 9/11

Today, many of us honor those lost during the attack on 9/11.  Regardless of what terrorist theory, conspiracy theory or anything else people subscribe to, what is important today is to honor those who were lost and to offer love and support to those they left behind.

I have some poignant memories of that day and the days that followed that are as fresh in my mind today as they were eight years ago.

A few of the really vivid ones:

  • Watching the ash fall outside my office window – falling like snow and watching people walk through it with their umbrellas up.
  • Telling my team to get home any way they could.  Manhattan had been temporarily sealed off and people were not allowed to enter or leave the island.  We all separated, not knowing what else could potentially happen to us as we made our way home in shock and disbelief.
  • Calling my parents in Canada from the train to tell them I was ok and as I did so, I saw a man sitting on the train – alone – covered from head to toe in white dust.  He was shaking uncontrollably and yet no one spoke to him- we didn’t know what to say.
  • The smell of the fire that burned for days afterward.  My house was 45 miles away and yet the smell filled the neighborhood.
  • The families of the lost who gathered at the National Guard Armory which had been set up as a temporary morgue.  The outside wall was covered with photos of the lost.  Complete strangers would walk up to you as you walked by, would grab you, hold a photo up and look into your eyes as they asked “Have you seen ….?”.  I stopped going by – my heart wasn’t strong enough when I saw the pain these people were in.
  • The memories of the 15 friends I lost in the Trade Center, most specifically:

Eric Bennett – a great friend who worked for Alliance Consulting and only a few days before had been nagging me to go to a Yankees game in his company's box. He was on one of the top floors and couldn't get out.

Narender Nath - my quality assurance guy for the software company that I cofounded in NYC. He was on the impact floor and never had a chance.  He was fascinated by advertising on American TV.  He preferred to watch the ads and would get up to get snacks when the regular programming came on.

Stephen Fiorelli – a dedicated family man and community contributor who worked for the Port Authority and stayed behind to help the fireman with floor plans of the building. He and his team decided at the last minute to evacuate and were in the stairwell when the building collapsed on them. His team survived.

Eight years later, I wonder how we as a society have grown since those people were taken from us.

Greed, apathy, indifference and lack of foresight have allowed us to create one of the greatest financial collapses in history.  The governments tell us that it is near an end.  Tell that to the many who lost everything.

Our appetite for toys grows unabated, even if the toys are destroying the environment.  Many are more consumed by the features of the next gadget than they are about their health, the health of others or the health of the planet.

Disease, hunger and poverty continue to kill millions every year, including 29,000 children under the age of 5 every day for lack of clean drinking water.

Wars continue for the standard reason – primarily political agendas that kill our young people to satisfy the need of some administration or dictatorship.

Now I’m an optimist – perhaps fatally.

Despite all of the things that continue to go on in the world, I believe that we can solve all of these problems.

I also know there are a lot of great optimists in the world striving to solve the world’s challenges.  They need our help to make solutions a reality.

We won’t solve them by simply pretending the world is all good (as in the rose-colored glasses optimist) and assume this will make it so.

We won’t solve it with positive thinking alone although belief in our ability to solve these things is essential.

We won’t solve it by prayer alone although for many, it brings strength.

We definitely won’t solve it by refusing to collaborate with others.  I see too many examples today where people’s egos are so strong, they would rather try and fail than to acknowledge that with some help, they could produce staggering result.

We won’t solve it by expecting something for nothing.  The challenges before us require a LOT of effort and strategic investment of knowledge, collaboration, cooperation, human resources and financial capital.

We can only solve it when we return to a place of authenticity.

The place that says:

  1. The challenges in the world require everyone’s participation to solve them.  In some way directly or indirectly, I contribute to the good and the bad on the planet.  I prefer to amplify the positive impact I have and minimize the negative.
  2. I hold myself accountable for the results I produce.  Maybe I won’t get them done as fast as someone else would like, but I will get them done.
  3. I encourage you to be accountable to  yourself and others, to help you produce the results that you expect of yourself and that others expect of you.
  4. We support each other – offering help and asking for help in order to help us achieve our collective and individual goals
  5. What I say is what I do.  If I can’t deliver, I will tell you why. I will expect the same of you.  We will communicate more openly and with more respect and focus on the outcome and not the ego.
  6. I will hold you accountable for proper results if you are a person in a place of influence, whether it be government, corporation, not-for-profit, education or any group that has significant influence over others.
  7. If I do something wrong, I want you to tell me.
  8. If you do something wrong, I will tell you.
  9. We are all connected and in this together.  Ego must be demoted to allow us to reach our greatest potential.

We have to start naming the elephants in the room when it comes to personal accountability and responsibility.  We must do it with respect and with an eye towards collectively solving the great challenges in the world.

We can’t just name the elephant and say “my job is done”.  Once we name it, we need to play an active role in deciding what to do with it.

If we choose apathy and let people do as they choose, even when we know it is wrong ….

If we choose fear and decide not to speak up for fear of repercussions ….

If we choose compliance and participate in something that we know is wrong ….

If we choose silence and accept that what we are told by this person, that organization, etc. is a load of you-know-what but we say nothing ….

If we choose to believe the PR spin of “everything is close to being solved” or “everything is lost – give up now” …..

Then we choose to allow the world to continue to evolve the way it is evolving – a world of ever-increasing pressure, violence, hunger, pollution and disease.

Then we choose to allow the world to develop without the benefit of the gifts we bring to the table – our knowledge, our talents, our strengths, our passion, our sense of fulfillment and our love for others.

Then we choose to allow our children to deal with the complexities of our mistakes.

Then we choose to allow our phenomenal potential to love, create, cure, share and solve problems to take a backseat to the very things we wish to avoid.

When we choose this, we choose not to be authentic to ourselves or to others.

I know that we all prefer to envision a world of unlimited potential.

I know that my friends Eric, Narender and Stephen believed in this also.

Let’s not delay releasing our fullest potential to make this world a better place.

Let’s do it now.

Isn’t that the best way to honor those who are lost?

Is that not the greatest legacy we can leave to the next generation?

Yours in service and servanthood and in dedication to those who were lost and those who grieve their loss.


To see the Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Authenticity – A Personal Assessment”, please click here.


  1. Harry...

    Thank you for this! It's been an important part of my September 11th activity. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to be in Manhattan with a few extra hours on my hands, and I travelled down to the site of the World Trade Centre, and then went over to spend some time in St. Paul's Church. It was tremendously moving.

    I was working in Grand Falls on that Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001. We were holding pastoral study days for the Diocese of Grand Falls, and when we heard how the planes were being diverted to Gander, we immediately took up a collection, collecting $800.00 from our little group of pastoral workers and priests. I went to the Mass with that money, and told the manager at Bargain Giant that I was there to buy whatever $800.00 would buy of supplies for the passengers. He immediately said that he would match our contributions, dollar for dollar, so $800.00 became $1600.00. The manager of Walmart came out to listen to our conversation, and also matched our contribution, giving us $800.00 worth of pillow, towels and facecloths. $800.00 had become $2400.00 I will never forget the feeling of gratitude that overwhelmed me as I made my way to the Red Cross depot, my little Ford Escort filled to overflowing with the kindness of strangers, and my heart filled with the kindness as well.

    I have a vivid memory of being in Grande Prairie in November, 2001 to facilitate a retreat, and I went to supper at the home of the Parish Secretary, Henriette. Her 2-year old grandson kept building a tower out of blocks, and then crashing a toy airplane into it, and then sending a firetruck by to "rescue" survivors. It made me so sad to watch him re-enact the scene again and again. I wonder whether he now has any memory of how profoundly affected him.

  2. Harry,

    I am speechless and in tears as I read through your blog post. I remember the day all too well. As I sat there in disbelief that it didn't happen or it was a movie (like HG Wells). It didn't sink in for a few days. My wife had one of her music students at Julliard at the time and he mother called balling that she couldn't contact her daughter. That was when it hit me.

    My heart sank at the sensless loss of life. Every year I spent today praying for the people who lost their loved ones. Everything aside this was an unbeliveable act.

    Harry, I can't fathom the loss of your friends but offer my prayers in comfort.

    God Bless,