THE BLOG
09/15/2015 04:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Can We Keep the Empathy State of Mind Alive?

The 14th anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone. My social media newsfeeds are filled with less outward sensitivity and commemoration today than they were a few days ago. So are the streets. Schools. Offices. Waiting rooms. Buses and trains. And it will likely continue on this way. That is, unless or until another tragedy strikes, or an anniversary of another tragedy comes along, that forces us to stop in our tracks, remember that we are human beings in an imperfect world, and realize how powerful we are when we come together with deep love in our hearts.

Because isn't that what tragedy tends to do? It forces us to be extra sensitive to others, extra compassionate towards others, and to love on others extra hard. But only temporarily.

It shouldn't be only temporarily.

While it makes sense that tragedy stirs up a fire within us that will die down over time, I want to ask as many of us as possible to keep it burning. To go further. To do more. It shouldn't take one or two or a dozen tragedies to push us towards real action, whether that be new policy or deeper love. It shouldn't take the anniversary of a horrific event for us to smile at each other more and appreciate the people and opportunities we have around us. To say, "I love you." To say, "I care." To say, "I know we don't know each other all that well, but I saw your post and wanted to check in."

It might be dependent on where you live in the U.S., but there is generally a powerful sense of togetherness on each September 11 anniversary. We feel it in our hearts when we wake up, when we pass others on the street, and when we open up Facebook. For all the heartbreaking photos of burning planes and buildings and bodies of innocent individuals, there are even more that represent an overwhelming human need to stand for and with others. This overwhelming need to be there for others should be alive inside all of us every single day. Not on a select one or two days throughout each year.

It is okay that my newsfeeds make me feel a greater sense of warmth and unity on September 11 than on other days. It is okay that so many Americans understand the importance of remembering what our country and the world experienced on that day back in 2001. In fact, it's wonderful. It is absolutely not okay, though, to let such feelings and togetherness die down once the 11th has come to an end. It is not okay to return to school and work and to walk down the street with less outward empathy and compassion than we feel on the anniversary of a tragedy.

It is crucial that we keep our spirits up and our hopes high. It is crucial we understand that just as easily as a stranger was born a stranger, they could have been born our brother or sister. And we should see it as our human and moral responsibility to be there for them. For everyone, in any way we can.

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It's almost scary how easily the fire within us can die down. It's scary that we can spend one whole day with our hearts on our sleeves and then roll up our sleeves once the sun goes down.

So, let's make a conscious effort to view others as family. We may not get along extremely well with, or have a lot in common with, every family member. But we can swallow our pride. We can show support. We can choose kindness over condemnation and ignorance.

Don't assume why someone is wearing something.

Don't assume you know how someone fell into homelessness.

Don't assume you're too different from someone to be there for them.

Just like your life experiences brought you to certain struggles, so did everyone else's. Someone else's struggles may be different from yours, but that in no way makes either of you more worthy than the other of mercy and respect. We're not meant to live in a world with people exactly like us. We're meant to love and learn and grow. And that wouldn't be possible without other people. People similar to us and different from us.

Don't reserve your deepest love and compassion for times of great tragedy. After all, we should know by now that great tragedy comes from a lack of our deepest love and compassion on "ordinary" days.

When you're going about your day, look at the people around you. Look at the people you're closest to, as well the people you feel disconnected from. Find connections. Find it within yourself to care for an absolute stranger and want the best for them. Don't settle for simply getting by in life. Be a great person, not a decent person. And remember, not just on the 11th of September, why that's important

Remember that the tragic events of September 11, 2001, came from ignorance and hate. So, seek to learn. Seek to understand others. Seek to be kind, even when you disagree. Seek to be the best version of yourself so that you can help someone else become the best version of themself.

Never forget September 11, 2001.

Never forget the unity we formed as a result of it.

Never forget to love.

Keep the unity and love that came from that day alive every day of the year. When we forget to love, we lose lives.

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