One thing I noticed in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is that for the most part most people didn’t flinch when it comes to their daily lives.
I know the French government, ours and many others responded with beefed up police and military presence in key places. But for me and the average Joe, life really went on its merry way with little change. And I don’t think that is due to a shared sense of defiance against terrorists, nor a statement of “we won’t let you stop us.” Instead, the real reason our routines went unchanged is because deep down we all have come to accept that in the modern world we live in, acts of terrorism are inevitable. It is simply accepted so deeply that we don’t even process it anymore.
In the Post 9-11 world, our collective sense of what defines safety has changed. I remember after that fateful day many of us actually thought twice about boarding airplanes, going to large events, like football stadiums and large public gatherings. But time and habits fade such concerns. Our need and desire to gather, travel, coupled with that passage of time, has also been impacted by the sheer volume of incidents, not just here in America - where we for a while felt immune - but in the world.
We actually grew somewhat accustomed to reading or hearing about incidents in other countries, from the Madrid train bombings, to the machete attacks on the street in London, to the shootings and attack on the Canadian Parliament in 2014. But what we have also come to accept is that we are just as vulnerable, and that no government can save us from determined individuals.
If 9-11 disavowed us of the notion that no one would attack us here on our soil, then the Boston Marathon bombings really obliterated any remaining vestiges of that belief. But it's not just foreign terrorists that remain a threat to us, it's our own neighbors, too. A Colorado movie theater, an elementary school in Sandy Hook, high schools in a number of states, a mall shooting in Wisconsin, the shooting at the political rally in Arizona that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords permanently injured and six others dead, including a 6-year-old girl. These are incidents we all know and have moved on from, with very little change in the way we live our lives, even when it comes to gun control and safety laws.
This is life as we know it now. And unfortunately it is life as we have come to accept. I suppose in a small way our resumption of normalcy is a statement of courage. But in a much larger way, it clearly derives from the basic sense that no one can really protect us from a person bent on hurting people and what other choice do we have but to go about our lives? We certainly cannot just stay in our homes cowering and worrying about every trip to the supermarket, or baseball game or marathon.
Safety, real safety is no more. In that sense maybe the terrorists, foreign and domestic alike, have won. But we can also take pride in the fact that we are strong enough to go on and enjoy our lives no matter what. Is it a victory for them or us that we don’t worry too much about our safety? Who knows and in the end, maybe that doesn’t matter. Life does go on. We are not safer, and we know that. But we also have learned there is only so much worrying and fear can do for us.