By Henry De Sio 05/19/12 8:21 AM
Bill Clinton's Powerful Perspective On The Flight 93 Memorial
The people on that plane were not victims. They were warriors.
That was how my thinking about the passengers and crew members of the ill-fated Flight 93 shifted after spending an evening with President Clinton. This evolution occurred during a recent benefit to raise money for the 9/11 memorial at the crash site near Shanksville, PA.
It is inherent in the human spirit to choose survival, the president began. Though he said it may not be clear just when the passengers and crew members came to understand the intentions for their hijacked plane, President Clinton carefully guided his audience to the monumental dilemma that they would confront in that moment. It was the choice between self and society.
What should be celebrated, President Clinton stated forcefully, was the conscious act of bravery demonstrated in what he called "the decision to enlist in the nation's defense."
His private comments to me after the event mirrored the remarks he'd made earlier in the evening. This is a highly integrated world today, he said. It is far more complex and it calls on so much more from us as citizens. He added that during his presidency, at a time when threats were more predictable and society was more compartmentalized, we could generally count on the traditional apparatuses to meet our security needs.
This is a far more fluid and increasingly complex time, he continued. It relies on every one of us to be actively engaged in a multifaceted way in the welfare of our society—and that includes our national security. We can't know when we may be similarly asked to enlist with only a moment's notice.
"We have to finish the (fundraising) work and we have to get that learning center built," he said with noticeable urgency. President Clinton was referring to the element of the memorial that seemed to energize him most; a space at the site that probes the legacy of Flight 93 and what it means to be a hero.
During the remainder of our conversation, he impressed upon me the importance of preparing our kids differently for this new world. They must acquire the skills and understanding from a very early age that will help them harness all of the great opportunities and tackle the multidimensional challenges that someday awaits their leadership.
As we parted, it struck me that Bill Clinton is a "frame changer." He has a way of actually changing your mind about a topic, even when you already agree with him. Based on our few conversations and having heard him speak many times before, I find it to be perhaps the most powerful of his leadership qualities.
I came to the evening's event determined to do my small part to create a memorial that was worthy of the sacrifice of those heroes. Thanks to his added perspective, I left committed to building a lasting tribute to "the decision" that the people who died on Flight 93 had made.
With this simple shift, I understood more deeply the importance of the vision for a substantive learning center with robust on-site education and distance-learning resources. In the moment when the choice between self and society was made, there is a powerful message for my children. That is the legacy.
For me, it is a frame changer.