What have we learned from our defining moments?

We all have them.  Those moments you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it happened.  The “it” may have been the assassination of President Kennedy (for us old folks), the Challenger disaster for some of us and September 11 for all of us.  The world shifted, the foundations were shaken and the world was never the same after moments like that.

Eight years after 9/11, 23 years after the Challenger disaster and 46 years after President Kennedy was assassinated are there lessons we have learned?  For me each of those events reflect our poorly developed ability to deal with conflict.  JFK died because an ideologue decided self-help in the form of a rifle, two bullets  and a scope was the way to settle a score.  Challenger exploded because NASA gave no credence to the vendor that manufactured the O-ring that failed on January 28, 1986 in the unplanned for cold of a Florida winter morning.  The vendor warned of failure, but the warning was ignored, lives were lost unnecessarily and the space program was set back a decade or more while shame and blame were fixed.  9/11 occurred because FBI warnings went unheeded by a whistleblower (Colleen Rowley) and radicals decided that mass murder was the best way to win an argument.  These are all people and system failures.

How are we doing in 2009?  Town Hall muggings and the breakdown of civil behavior in a Joint Session of Congress suggest we have not matured very much.  When violence and irrational outbursts are the means by which we win or lose, why should we expect anything different?

What would our culture be like if we learned to cultivate collaboration and generate respectful conversations of consequence?  Disagreements need not result in violence, calamity and death.  It is possible to dialogue our way into better outcomes.  Do we have the courage to engage?  Can we afford not to?

Let’s check back in another eight, 23 or 46 years and see how we have done.


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