In the year 2000, Malcolm Gladwell released his first book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. One of my all-time favorite books, Gladwell offered examples and case studies about how small sociological changes tipped the behavior of the masses.
Think of a seesaw.
The tipping point is the point at which more people choose to make the emotional leap onto one side over the other, changing the balance and weighing one side down, while the other side is stranded in the air, feet dangling.
Ironically, my copy of Gladwell’s book met its fate on what may have been the largest tipping point in U.S. history – while sitting on the shelf in my office on the 64th floor of Two World Trade Center.
For many, myself included, 9/11 was the tipping point that handed us a fear and hatred of Muslims. Call me naïve, but before that day, it had never even dawned on me that I had unknown enemies.
As I went through the stages of grief in the days immediately following 9/11, I clearly remember saying words that I never expected to come out of my mouth, nor would I ever want my kids to hear me say. With my screen door open, and my Muslim neighbor (one of my best friends at the time) likely within earshot, I screamed, “All Muslims should be killed!”
It took only seconds for the shame of what I had just said to settle in. I truly knew better. And I quickly jumped off the side of the seesaw where anger and generalizations took their seat.
I also remember that days later a group of my friends, including the same Muslim friend and his cousin, all went to the local bowling lanes to try and lighten the mood. The whole time, I feared for all of us that there might be some backlash from others who felt the same anger that I had felt just days before.
Why am I telling you this?
My heart hurts. The seesaw now has so many people on the side of hatred and anger and no one’s willing to get off.
I would say it was just the events in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas that’s breaking me. But isn’t it so much more than that?
The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Random acts of violence against Muslims. Heck, even the explosive reaction to the well-publicized death of Harambe after a child made his way into the gorilla’s enclosure.
I hurt because we are just so angry. And only getting angrier. For a country that is supposed to be united, we are more divided than ever – on just about everything.
And listen, I will not pretend to know all the details. I will not make speculations about who was in the right and who was in the wrong in any of these cases. I just keep wondering at what point will people be ready to get off the side of anger and tip the scales back the other way?
In the days after my office was demolished by terrorists, I went back to New York to work. I have never seen a friendlier, gentler city than I did at that time. As sad as we all were, we were there for one another – strangers and all.
But it shouldn’t take something of 9/11 magnitude to tip the seesaw back in the direction of understanding and acceptance of one another.