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The future beyond September 11, 2001 (Archive)

Life in the immediate aftermath of the multiple tragedies of this week is surreal. At the same time, within our dream-like activities we are sowing the seeds for the entire future beyond September 11, 2001.
Most of us are dealing with a combination of gigantic policy questions, overwhelming and impossible-to-internalize grim statistics and small and personal incidents. The best thing that we can do for civilized society, our children and our future is to continue with life in as orderly a fashion as possible even as we sort out reasons and responses. If I am any example, that is hard to do. I have a tendency to bump into chairs, forget why I started walking and jump from one task to another as I try to assemble a list of priorities that changes as events unfold.
When the news began to spread about the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, I was attending a conference in Tucson called “SRI in the Rockies”. Thus I and five other Trillium Asset Management employees were together with several hundred kindred spirits in a desert city, far from Boston, New York or Washington. But all of us have friends in those cities, and most of us were intimately familiar with the specific places flashing across the T.V. screen on Tuesday. Although at this point it seems that we are all safe and our families are all safe, we steel ourselves for when we find the victim we all know.
The conference organizers (First Affirmative Financial Network and the Social Investment Forum) and hotel employees (Sheraton) did a wonderful job of remaining calm and courteous even as the televisions placed around the lobby predicted World War III. In fact, people were more than polite to each other. People were caring, patient and helpful in all cases. Although plenty of people were very frightened, hysteria never surfaced. Avis happily allowed a few of us to extend our automobile rental and drive our car back to San Francisco. Marriott employees in a hotel just outside of Palm Springs were almost gentle as they checked us in late at night. Indeed, if the spirit of generosity and helpfulness we have seen so far could be sustained in the days and weeks to follow, at least in some ways we would achieve a better world. Where is it written that tragedy cannot be a learning experience?
Everyone agrees that these are watershed events. The United States will lose its “innocence”. Or is a better word “ignorance”? In our future, we must, in the words of John Carman writing in the San Francisco Chronicle today, “see ourselves, and the rest of the world, whole”, as “on one small ball, hovering in space, a ball wired tightly together and teeming with people.” Some of us are very familiar with the concept of a holistic global system. Few of us has had to deal first hand with the hatred, suspicion and fear felt toward this country in the rest of the world. Blaming for the past is never a constructive way to design the future. If we are tempted to point any fingers, we should remember that we are part of this global system and arrogance, where it appears, breeds contempt. At least some of the fingers should point back home.
At the conference, many people voiced fear of the official reaction. My colleagues and I hoped fervently that world leaders in a position to influence the reaction will repeat that these acts are those of a crazed minority, and that stereotyping or paranoid racism will fix nothing. I think of my son’s friend from Palestine and his wife and small daughter; I have rarely met better, kinder, more intelligent human beings. They could never be involved in any violent crime, and I feel fear for them.
Today the investment analysts and account managers of Trillium Asset Management met to begin to assemble news and predictions for the future. Some things seemed clear. Others did not. We resolved to hold a meeting each day to check in on the financial world and formulate strategy as impacts become more obvious. We know that if we react with fear and paralysis, we ourselves will have realized the goals of the terrorists.
The small stories continue to come in. My daughter-in-law, Joyce, took my twin grandchildren to the store this morning. From the back seat, little three-year-old Aubrey said, very quietly, “Mommy, I want to make a card for those people”. After a few questions, she understood him. He asked to send a card to “the people in the building” so they would not be sad.