What’s the opposite of 9/11?: The Power of Shared Experience

This post is inspired by the film “Seven Days in September,” available via Netflix or on YouTube in 10 minute chunks. It’s a very difficult but worthwhile watch.

On September 11th, I lived on Bond Street, which is a few miles from what later became known as Ground Zero.

Top-right is Home and work, Bottom-left is WTC site
Top-right is Home and work, Bottom-left is WTC site

Needless to say, I was front-and-center for the raw emotion, shock and pain in the immediate aftermath. Plenty has been said on every scale about that part.

What was maybe a little less focused-on was New Yorkers immediate response to each other.

There has always been an underlying sense of camraderie between the people who manage to make it work living here, even through our brusqueness, seeming indifference and occasional shouting matches with cabbies.  I’ve always been proud to call myself a native New Yorker.  What came out in the weeks and months after the event was a bubbling to the surface of the connections that had previously been understood but not acted upon.  People everywhere were actively connecting with each other through this new ‘safe space’ that made it okay.

While that safe space has receded somewhat in the months and years following, I think any New Yorker would agree the city has increased the conscious level of connection between its citizens, which is a positive effect of an otherwise horrendous event.

Watching this movie made me start to think about the safe space that was created, and the value that it brought to the community.  What can each of us do to create a shared experience and a safe space to connect?

One of the best micro-examples of what I’m talking about appears in a segment of the Jimmy Fallon show they call “Shared Experiences,” in which Jimmy, The Roots, the guests and the studio audience all share in something silly (like wearing Slankets, or crazy sunglasses).  It may seem like just a bit, but by including everyone in a single act, intimate connections are made, people are valued and we are all left with more of a sense of unity than we started out with.

One of the true tests of the net effects of so-called Social Media and new tools like Facebook, Twitter, and the internet as a whole will be when we create a measurable effect on the circumstances by which we all identify with each other as part of a community, a city, a country, a planet, a species.  That’s when we will truly be changing the world.

And thats when the terrorists lose.