20 years of perspective

(originally published in French on 2021-09-16)


In front of a urinal.

And I laughed out loud when I heard this too-big-to-believe bad joke…

…for a few seconds.

We all remember that moment when we learned about this historic and tragic moment.


Two numbers that are more associated with help (911) than with an attack. What’s more, a terrorist attack.

Two words that were not at all common before this fateful date, 20 years ago.

Life has changed a lot since then.

  • Getting on a plane and waiting 3 hours before boarding is commonplace.
  • Being suspicious of extremists and religious symbols in general is also common.
  • The disturbing rise of the White-supremacists Trumpists …

But that’s after…

There is also a “during”.

At 10:05 on this Tuesday, September 11, 2001, in front of the urinal, I was savouring a moment of pride and satisfaction (no relation with the drop in bladder pressure by the way) after a conference by Robert Haccoun, a professor from the University of Montreal and Toronto, on learning and development. A conference that was part of a biennial conference of which I was the Chairman that year. It was the first Canadian edition since the foundation of this American association, the GMPTEA (for the pharmaceutical industry). We had an incredible program! 150 participants from Canada and the USA mainly, at the OMNI hotel in downtown Montreal. With the Canadian currency being so weak at the time, our American colleagues got their money’s worth!

Not as much as we would have imagined!

After an exciting Sunday evening, a challenging Monday, an extraordinary first Tuesday morning conference…I found myself leading a group of traumatized professionals trapped in a country with blocked borders and a cordoned-off downtown!

How do you react to a situation like that?

How do you handle 150 people in shock, in a hotel in crisis, with testimonies from their colleagues in the American factories surrounding New York who called to say that they could see the smoke from the WTC towers from their office window!

It is said that we all have hidden talents. Some never emerge, others emerge under special circumstances. I discovered that day that I can be an excellent crisis manager. I say this with humility and sincerity. But I have to admit it, although I wish I hadn’t had to discover it.

That morning, once I got over my shock and realized that the bathroom colleague who told me the news of the two planes that had hit the WTC was not joking, despite the immensity and incongruity of the news, I jumped into action.

  1. Validate the information: easy, all the television sets around the world were showing the same sequence in a loop.
  2. To become aware of the crisis state of the participants of the congress: also easy, … General panic, tears and incredulity being read on the face of each one!
  3. Call the psychological help center of our company (host of the event), to monopolize one or two shrinks who would come to support our American colleagues at the hotel
  4.  Let 30 minutes pass and take control of the situation: everyone in the large conference room.
  5.  Communication and change of program:
    • borders closed, we are stuck here for a few days
    • psychological support available in rooms #X and Y for everyone
    • we stick together and continue the program to calm down
    • Special “feel good” program in the afternoon (my team ran to the downtown stores to buy items required for the special program…special Thanks to all of them, Stephane, Pierre, Mariève, Marie-Josée, Josée, Claudia, Brigitte and Michel)
    • Ah yes…the evening with Trio Jazz will take place anyway and will be particularly important.
  6. Call home to reassure my wife who was taking care of the kids that day. I was stuck in the downtown area that night. Another little crisis and worry…

I don’t remember exactly what really happened, but it all worked out, although in a weird mental fog. (Although the view of the illuminated downtown buildings through the terrace windows of the Hotel Terrace was surreal!) Perhaps people needed guidance. Maybe our suggestions were perfectly adequate (I doubt it, but hey..even a joke with a gorilla made the participants laugh…I can’t believe it…and no, I don’t remember the joke…).

Our team handled the situation and the next day everyone was able to return home by land.

The rest of the week passed very quickly. The whole world, in a state of shock, was still (is still !) asking questions. The weekend that followed … eh? My brain went into post-traumatic mode and I have no memory of the following days. Nothing. I was making balloons

20 years already.

The events of 9/11 have struck our imagination with their violence,

for us in America, who have never experienced the horrors of modern warfare.

for the rest of the world, who rapidly understood that the USA would retaliate …

20 years of perspective

American military power could not solve the terrorist problem, but the military-industrial complex grew and the militarization of the police force could not stem the growing malaise of the 21st century. Terrorist events are part of our daily lives and are exacerbated by the media in search of sensationalism.

Oh yes… and social networks have taken over to feed all the nagging that we could secretly keep private.

Those who didn’t live through these events watched the images like an action movie without imagining the horror and shock, the trauma we experienced. Oddly enough, I have listened to more war movies since then and I realize that the sequences of violence have a more powerful psychological impact than before.


Yes, there is a “before” and an “after” 9/11.

20 years since that day.

Yes, life has changed…

Except…a little virus has changed our lives even more since December 2019. And in a more lasting and global way.  If the war on terror has cost over 3 trillion USD in the last 20 years, fighting the virus is more than  80,000 USD in 2 years.

A matter of perspective.

Life goes on and the pandemic shows us once again that humans are resilient and adaptable. In spite of the horror, in spite of the pain, in spite of the violence, in spite of the disease, in spite of the law of the jungle, the law of the strongest, the Other Law of the Jungle is also felt… in difficult moments the Human, like most animals, will turn to help his neighbor.

The Other Law of the Jungle

Helping each other.

20 years after 9/11, it seems to me that we should emphasize more the positive aspects, even if transitory, of a crisis, whatever it is.  The heroic gestures, the voluntary actions, the dedication of the frontline workers, Humans at their best.

As Stéphane Laporte said on this morning of September 11, 2021.

“On September 11, 2001, America was all about revenge.

On September 11, 2021, America should only think about making peace.”

The pandemic has shown us the limitations of our health care systems and the dedication of our health care workers! Although anti-vax and conspiracy theorists of all kinds are adding to the burden of the pandemic, the majority of the population has been able to adapt and remain caring despite it all.

There is hope.

20 years of perspective

Can 20 years of hindsight allow us to learn from our mistakes and do better next time?

Will 2 years of pandemic and 80,000 billion help us see through the smog of our excesses and our climate ambivalence?

Will we have the courage and lucidity to move forward without leaving our children a legacy of a past and a history without wisdom based on a planet that will be fine despite the abuse to which we expose it?

“Life always finds a way”

Ian Malcom, Jurassic park


It is up to us to decide to be part of this life.


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