Why? That’s the leading question from many when they think about the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this week, especially since there still remains much speculation around the reasons for this event. What possible level of anger, madness, or beliefs could justify inflicting such horrible pain and harm on innocent people? Though we await answers to some confusing and difficult questions, one thing we do know is that in the moments after the explosions, our best as human beings showed.
We are programmed with a fight-or-flight response when presented with danger or change; it is there to keep us safe. But on April 15, more people disregarded this impulse and, instead of running away, ran toward the explosion to help the brave first responders. Badly injured victims had strangers holding their hands, talking to them, crying with them. From the darkness of tragedy can come greatness. We find our courage. We stay instead of run.
Americans are tough. Though we may get upset and raise our voices, we quickly forget ourselves and focus on the ones in need when one of our own is hurt, challenged, or needs help. We run to the scene, not from it. We become selfless, responsive, and more aware of others. We show up. We find our grit and resolve. This is who we truly are.
In tragedy we unite. It was that way on 9-11. It was that way when the tornado destroyed much of Joplin, MO. It was that way with the shootings in Tucson, Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook Elementary. It was that way with the
Boston Marathon bombings. At our core, we Americans are amazing, selfless and compassionate people.
But why does it take a tragedy for us to step into our greatness? We are obviously capable of this response on a daily basis. We can choose to respect and care for one another, even when their house hasn’t been destroyed, their limbs damaged, or their loved ones lost. We have the ability to be powerful, bold and courageous in dealing with differences and challenges without first needing a tragedy to compel us to a greatness response.
Regardless of our backgrounds, we are connected; we are Americans. And as Chad Finn, Boston.com Columnist wrote, “No, we are not all related. But in times of trouble you’d better believe we are all family.” As a family, we instantly come together to lessen the pain and help in any way possible. Our collective effort, genius and spirit response can be epic. So how can we rally with this same energy, focus and passion in our everyday lives?
Last week, I spoke to 120 teens at a Rotary Youth Leadership Assembly. I shared how these teens could start to find their personal greatness road in life – to show up as a leader of their own lives. Start young to strike out violence and hatred as the automatic or conditioned response. Start young to care more about others, in every moment. We can choose to build a world that solves its issues and challenges through discussion, mutual respect and ideas, not bombings, violence and vitriol. They truly saw this as a possibility.
Boston, my college town and home to many family members and friends, and the determined athletes and enthusiastic spectators are the latest victims in a violent world. A violent world considers violence as a legitimate solution to challenge and conflict. This behavior fills our television shows, movies, video games, and Internet. This is how many see the world because this is much of what we see in our world.
In response to violence and tragedy, we impose few limits on our support. We find the energy, the strength, the courage, and the commitment to stay, help, inspire, and deliver – we bring our A-game. In many of the daily events of life we show up with our B-game – our petty, small-minded, and selfish responses. We fight with each other. We blame and attack each other. We forget we are family.
In moments of tragedy we see how capable we are for empathy, effort, tenacity, support, love, compassion, and resilience. Without tragedy, I know we are still capable of the same powerful emotions. We can learn ‘daily greatness’ responses from life’s tragic circumstances. We have it in us. We can choose to always bring our A-game, to all events in life. The result can be a more compassionate and responsive world. I want it to be possible. I believe it is possible. I know it is possible.
The horrible events at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15 will never be forgotten. They’ll change the way everyone thinks of this historical day in Boston, and next year, as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, the marathon will “be bigger and better than ever before.” Bostonians banded together. Americans came together. Our greatness showed. We weren’t heroes; we were just family, doing what families are capable of and what they do best. My thoughts and prayers are with the runners, their families, spectators, volunteers, the first responders, and all of us who watched in horror from other parts of the country. May we all heal from this pain, and unite in our commitment to support each other more often as family and commit to creating a more peaceful world.
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Jay Forte is the president and founder of The Greatness Zone, an organization providing practical tools, programs and resources to help us know ourselves, find our fit and transform our world. He writes and speaks on living our personal greatness and is an advocate for raising the collective consciousness about and the responsibility for showing up to our work and life with passion and purpose.
Photo credit: Charles Krupa/Associated Press
Photo credit: Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images