Twenty years on, the tragedy of 9/11 grows and grows.

It is more than the considerable death and destruction from one day’s unspeakable act of terror.

It is two decades of protracted, wasteful military conflict, capped with a clumsy, ignominious retreat. It is lost standing at home and abroad that has emboldened the enemies of freedom.

And, also importantly, it is a squandered opportunity to build on the sense of national unity that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

On the whole, we as American people have a problem. We tend to be impatient listeners and overeager with our tendency to prejudge other people, ones who act or appear different from us and our kind. It’s a rut of behavior that seems to grow deeper each passing year.

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9/11 happened to us. What followed it, we did to ourselves.

We have no one but ourselves -- fellow Americans -- to blame for an ugly spate of hate crimes against Muslims and Middle Easterners (2001) or Asian immigrants (2020). No one but ourselves to blame for widening political differences that, increasingly often, incite “cancelation” ... or ignite violence. No one but ourselves to blame for an inability, at times, to even speak to each other in a calm voice.

How on earth can we get out of this mess?

It’s not going to happen overnight, but one step in the right direction, we think, involves learning to listen again. Listening is physically easy but mentally hard. Like physics or calculus, it can be taught. Like shooting free throws, it’s a skill that can be honed.

One effort to get us started in Rochester is the Community Respect Project, which offers a handful of public events in the coming days at locations across the city.

An event on Friday at RCTC’s Heintz Center taught skills including how to ask meaningful questions and to respect the value of other people’s stories.

Events in the coming days include a session on tackling emotionally charged topics (Monday and Tuesday), insights on COVID-19 (Tuesday), and finding inspiration in other people’s stories (Monday and Wednesday). You can find out more about the classes, and register to attend one or more, at the website Or call 507-254-1265.

Today we remember Sept. 11, 2001, a day of infamy when violence came to our shores. With our own good faith efforts, Sept. 11, 2021, could be remembered as the day we took our first step to recovery, when we decided to chase intolerance out.

It’s our choice.