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Op-Ed Archive

"Freedom Isn't An American Birthright—It's Earned"
The Star, September 19, 2001

By Terry Paulson, PhD

After September 11, 2001, the world is different, and, as we face our first full week back at work, we must move from looking back as victims of terrorism and look forward to what each citizen can do as modern-day patriots—men and women of action and resolve!

While we wait for and support our national leaders as they respond to this horrific act of terrorism against our land and our way of life, it is important that we as citizens do what we can. The depression of our age has been called learned helplessness—"There is nothing I can do that is going to make any difference so I might as well wait until they do it to me." There are true victims in this tragedy and our hearts and support go out to them and to their loved ones, but those of us who remain are not victims. We are survivors! Talking about ourselves as victims of terrorists encourages feelings of helplessness. The term "survivor" builds an image of someone who endures, lives through the challenge, persists and succeeds. Victims are passive while survivors are active.

As we try to get back into life and away from our television sets, many of you here and across the country are already making a difference for America on and off the job. Here are ten things that people are doing to continue to make an active difference:

1. Fly Old Glory! Wear and display our flag emblem to show your solidarity and support. When I was stranded last week in Buffalo waiting for the flights to resume and take me home, I id my afternoon jog carrying a small American flag. I received hundreds of waves and honks from proud Americans. Show your patriotism in your own way for united we stand.

2. Start a solo on your own or join in singing "America the Beautiful!" Don't worry if you can't sing. God gave you that voice and he deserves to hear it.

3. Take time to give blood and send funds to the Red Cross or a humanitarian effort of your choice. We mourn those lost, but it is critical to continue to support those who need medical support and blood.

4. Don't just believe in America, invest in American industry. As Roosevelt knew—the only thing to fear is fear itself. The terrorists count on our fears to destroy the public confidence in our economic system. We can't let that happen. If every American refused to sell their shares and, instead, bought 100 shares of stock or even invested $100 in a stock or mutual fund of their choice, we would send a message to the world—Americans believe in America and its future. After all, that's your future, the future of your organization, and the future of America you are investing in!

5. Write President Bush and Congress to support them and to encourage patient restraint and iron resolve in mobilizing our "international war on terrorism." The world does not need a quick show of force to get revenge; we need thoughtful and just attacks on those responsible. Because of the enormous carnage of this brutal attack, the world is with us. We need to keep them with us by being true to our principles and values. Terrorists target citizens; Americans and our allies must be known for targeting terrorists and minimizing the unnecessary loss of civilian life.

6. When you fly, be ready to do your part to fight terrorism. In the past, passengers would bide their time and trust in diplomatic or swat-team intervention. Now that planes have been used as missiles of destruction, the groundrules must change. Whether we have reinforced cockpit doors or marshals on every plane, we must do our part as citizens. Join with me in commiting to do your part with other able-bodied passengers to overcome any terrorists who even attempt to take over a plane. Like the flight that crashed in the woods of Pennsylvania, some may die in such actions, but fighting back may very well save far more.

7. Pray alone and in your house of worship for comfort for those who mourn, emotional and physical healing for those in need, guidance for our actions, discernment for our leaders, and strength and safety for our military men and women. Go to your house of worship for services and find comfort and strength with your community of believers. If you don't believe in God, try praying anyway—your may find comfort as well!

8. Instead of isolating or attacking our fellow American citizens who share the nationality or religion of the terrorists, we must show our hands in support. Most Arab and Islamic citizens are just as upset with the actions of these terrorists as any other American. At the same time, I ask their understanding. Some fellow Americans will call them names out of anger, frustration and grief. With 30 or more identified terrorists still believed to be in this country, responsible Arab American young men can also expect increased profiling by authorities and airport security for no fault of their own. I trust that they will understand, and that we will all work to minimize hateful comments and attacks. Do your part to defend and support all your neighbors and colleagues.

9. Buy things, enjoy ball games, work, create, travel, and live life fully. Take time to mourn and know that appropriate justice will take time and commitment, but get back to business and to life. The terrorists want us to put life on hold, but America is a nation of dynamic and vital people who embrace life...so seize the day!

10. Finally, take time with family and friends to talk, hug, cry, laugh and, even, tell them how much you love and appreciate them. Victims often want to isolate themselves. Survivors find community and use that community to heal and bounce back. While you are at it, when you see a policeman, emergency medic or fireman, take time to say thank you. We too often wait until memorial services to appreciate those who give their all for us every day.

As a closing perspective let me end with the final words of Abraham Lincoln when he spoke to those gathered in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. His comforting and challenging words could just as easily been delivered to us today:

"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what (happened) here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to...the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The American journey continues into a new chapter of our history. Freedom isn't a birthright of America or any democracy; it must be earned and reearned in every age. Now is our time to earn it again.


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