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Late 2009 provided another vivid experience of a close call with vulnerability. A young, well educated and well off young man from another country attached explosives to his inner clothing with the alleged intent of igniting it and bringing down an airplane with many people aboard.
Since then there has been major the back-and-forth about whether “the system” worked or not. The good news: the bomb did not go off and all landed safely.
I have been thinking since about just what all is in “the system.” First, I wondered what those among us believing that the best government governs least are thinking about this incident. Then there are a lot of people with thoughts all along a spectrum about what government should/should not do.
Along side all this pondering the role of government is a general wisdom about that Christmas Day event in Detroit: some passengers were very observant, wise and courageous, and our government agencies responded smoothly and effectively. On the other hand, leading up to that Christmas Day flight, some key information was clearly not communicated well, and thus before the incident things done were less than effective.
When it comes to government and considerations like those around this incident, I almost always go back to the metaphor of society being like a table with four legs. The four legs of a stable society table: individuals and families, civic and religious organizations, business and government. Isn’t there always interplay among them?
Maybe this time though there are helpful thoughts about the roles of individuals/families as well as civic and religious organizations. Wasn’t it a few passengers who spotted trouble and stopped the alleged bomber? Are these valiant people also part of our social system?
In no way am I advocating our becoming vigilantes. But what are the backgrounds of those brave passengers? Their families, teachers, models, organizations to which they belong? We need people in our overall “system” like them – because, as columnist David Brooks has wisely noted, no amount or arrangement of rules, regulations and agencies are going to perform perfectly all the time (or else won’t we all become like residents of well organized cemeteries?).
Gratefully we are engaged in a major review of procedures across all the entities involved in national security and transportation safety. But won’t it be the case that at the end of this round of reviews we will also still need alert, wise and generous individuals to supplement the good functioning of more formal components of our “system”? Won’t we need to carefully cultivate these qualities among us? Aren’t we all living in this most interesting time - together?
Amid all the current examining of our travel safety procedures, I want to be sure to thank all those who serve in these many agencies. They are people really important to us and our well-being. Special blessings on them in this harsh weather.
Meanwhile I resolve to spruce up on my own being observant and careful about the welfare of others.
Is another take on “system” – community?
Sister Mary Schmuck, RSM may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.