Rome News-Tribune 9/11 special edition 2001

The Rome News-Tribune Sept. 11, 2001, special edition.

In those days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks we became a united country.

There was partisan bickering and political edging going on before that point and certainly there was much afterward, but for a short time we were all Americans and that was all that mattered.

In a recent ceremony honoring those who were killed by terrorist attacks, extremist attacks, there was a share of that feeling of unity again. The prayers weren’t just for the Christians who lost their lives or the Muslims or atheists or Buddhists. The prayers weren’t just for the Republicans or Democrats or Americans.

The prayers didn’t specify who was to be left out, they were for everyone. They were for every single person who was harmed that day, and all of us were attacked.

But standing here 18 years after we were attacked, it’s like someone has taken divisiveness and turned up the volume so loud a normal person can’t even hear reason.

More and more often the extremes on the right and left are shouting louder and louder — clamoring to be heard. In this political argument it’s not reason or evidence that is key — it’s volume, shares and re-tweets. It’s deafening.

At this point many of us are looking around — clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right — and even if your politics are somewhere in the center the stretch to extremism in our country pushes at least the perception one way or another.

It’s a terrible thing to watch.

The blame game has reached the most epic of proportions with our president and both of our major political parties playing the lead role.

Despite all the hype — there’s no question that it’s all party self-interest and we’re all watching. You can blame the Russians for — not creating — but fanning the flames of divisiveness, but it’s pretty difficult to give a foreign country credit for the roles we’ve all played.

It’s easy to be abrasive or rude when you’re in the social media or internet blabosphere because it removes one very human factor. We like to call it the punch in the mouth effect. The basics of the well-thought-out theory are thus: People will feel free to say the worst things possible when you remove that one simple factor — the ability of the recipient of their communication to just draw back and jack them in the jaw.

It’s not acceptable behavior in our society to just lay into someone. But we all have our line and that line fades proportionately as the possibility of physical violence diminishes.

This isn’t a call for people to start scrapping in the streets over politics — exactly the opposite. Act online as you would in person. Be polite, listen and reply as if the person you’re talking, typing or texting with is a person with feelings.

Don’t just read the headline and don’t just accept stories from any website or publication as gospel until you’ve checked them out and found they’re worthy of your trust. We’re at a point in time where there is literally just about any information at our fingertips. Without leaving your computer you could conduct scholarly research, learn about history or language or music or whatever it is you enjoy.

As you sit in your home you can watch nearly any movie you like or well ... just about anything. Want to learn how to fix something about your make and model of car? Want to learn how to start a vapor-locked chainsaw? Want to learn calligraphy or something even more random? It’s all there.

But we are where we are — barking loudly over the internet about anything, yet managing to say exactly nothing worth listening to. We’re better than that, or at least we all could be.

Back to partisanship ... and unity.

We’re all watching as our two major parties are failing us as citizens. That’s not to say a third party or fourth party would be any better because power corrupts and they’d likely be doing the same thing as soon as they were securely in power.

At this point we all need to take a step back and realize it’s not them — it’s us. No one on earth can change another person, no matter how hard you try. You can give them the tools and you can show them the way but you can’t force change.

We have to look to ourselves for change.

We have to point to ourselves and ask, “How can I make my community and country better? How can I contribute?”

Admittedly, for most of us that’s going to be hard. The easy path is to continue doing what we’re doing — be divisive, point to others and say they’re the ones ruining our country ... you know the role, we’re already there.

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