My friend, Aaron, took a number of his high school students to the inauguration of Barack Obama this week. He called last night to talk to me about what he observed as heroism in groups. I asked him to write something up, and he did. Coincidentally my friend, Chuck, asked me yesterday what I though about the idea of heroic nations. Hopefully he’ll send me something too. Read Aaron’s report below the photo.
I had traveled throughout the morning to reach the Silver Gate by 5:30am. Once there I noticed (and this would hold true for the remainder of the day) that people were unusually upbeat about being crammed together. Every time the crowd moved or swayed (similar to a school of fish) people would make small amusing statements about our current state. One would realize that they were certainly in someone else’s personal space, and that would be the impetus to becoming acquainted with your neighbor.
While in line, I was surrounded by people of different race, color, creed, gender, nationality, political affiliation, and age. Without exception this was never a cause for stress between us, but rather it proved to be a great reason to learn more about who else was there for this occasion. I specifically met people from Sacramento, Hartford CN, Georgia, and Chicago all while standing in various lines.
Throughout the day I saw three events occur that were less than harmonious. But during and after each event, the self-regulating crowd proved to be the victor. One of these events stands out like a Blue Whale in the Mojave Desert. While leaving the inauguration I witnessed an older African American woman smack a sucker out of a 10-12 year-old boy’s mouth for apparently stepping on her toe. Needless to say this infuriated the mother of the boy, and all three parties began exchanging words. The older woman was swearing at the boy for “kicking her”. The boy was using racial slurs at the woman, and the mother was cursing back at the older woman. But what happened next was astounding. Strangers in the crowd worked their way into this situation, and began to mediate the conflict. A complete stranger stepped in and said: “This is a day of celebration for all of us, we are to be happy…” She then began to inform the older woman that she needed to apologize. Without any prompting another stranger stepped in and began to work with the mother and the boy. Very quickly all parties were encouraged by complete strangers to swallow any ill will they had, and apologize to the correct person. In addition to this, another stranger was speaking on a very child friendly level about why one should not use the language the child had. After this, everyone involved continue to swim through the crowd on their way to the exit.
It is because of events like this, that the Inauguration of Obama was especially great. Millions of people crowded into a very small area, for a very long time, on a very cold day; and yet these people kept their spirits high, their smiles on, and more importantly the reason for being at this location in mind. In every one of the events of potential tribulation that I witnessed, the reason behind becoming the bigger person was the fact that we ALL were there to witness in joy the Inauguration of our Nation’s first African American President.
Almost everyone on this day put the importance of the occasion, before himself or herself. They were more concerned about the larger issues at hand, and not as concerned about personal comfort. They put these things on the back burner for a few hours in order to be part of a group that was joyously watching a historic occasion.
People were taking action when others started to become overly concerned with their own interests, or when others were on the verge of causing problems. Strangers would step in to stop events from escalating without full knowledge of the preceding actions. The crowd would work through positive, nonviolent means to try and resolve any dispute. Some things people in the crowd did varied from attempting to mediate a peace, or simply offering to move into a space between two people who were feuding, thus causing the intervening bystander to have a slightly less advantageous viewing point.
Finally, everyone who attended this Inauguration assumed some level of risk. The trip into DC on bus, plane, and other means put 2 million people onto a select few roads. The Metro was absolutely packed with people. Standing for 8+ hours in a crowd of strangers is not the easiest or most delightful thing to do on a day where temperatures never rose above freezing. But these people all did it for the sake of the Inauguration. Even at a concert or comedic show, there are those who need to be removed for incorrect action, and even violence. From what I saw on this day, and from what the news agencies have reported there were none of things on the day of the Inauguration. The crowd was self-regulating, self-mediating, and more importantly concerned about the good of the whole, rather than the desires of the individual.
This day was absolutely amazing, and I still do get a bit of a rush when I think back to how it felt to be in a crowd of people, who together, simply wished for at least one day to enjoying having hope for the future.
What do you think of the small events Aaron saw? Is it possible for a crowd (as a single entity) to be doing the small good things that are common among heroes? I found his story fascinating. As he said, there were a few other instances of the same phenomenon.