Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

In Boston, 'look for the helpers'

By John D. Sutter, CNN
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 0943 GMT (1743 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Mr. Rogers quote was widely shared on Twitter on Monday
  • After tragedy, he says, we should "look for the helpers"
  • John Sutter: That message is resonant following the Boston bombing
  • He says all of us are geared to help, and the bombing response shows that

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a human rights and social change columnist at CNN Opinion. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com or follow him on Twitter (@jdsutter), Facebook or Google+.

(CNN) -- This may be a week of skeptical glances.

When I took the subway home on Monday night, after watching news that three people died and more than 100 were injured in a terror attack in Boston, I looked around at crowds and fellow passengers in Atlanta with an unfair twinge of suspicion. It's difficult not to let events like this impact your patterns of thinking. It's sometimes hard to do what The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg suggests: to keep calm and carry on.

That used to be easy, before Oklahoma City, where I'm from, and before 9/11. Then it was more difficult. And just when it seemed like "terror" was a word that we could use with a sense of distance and irony -- and a concept we watched play out in films like "Zero Dark Thirty" and not in our communities -- our collective sense of security threatened to evaporate again, after two explosions hit the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

We are left searching for answers and perpetrators. Families are mourning those who died and praying for those who lost limbs and were severely injured.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

I think it's because of all this uncertainty and soul-searching that a quote from America's lullaby-voiced comforter, Mr. Rogers. bounced all over my Twitter feed on Monday afternoon, getting retweeted in various forms by thousands.

"I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Leave it to a former kids' TV host to give America its moral compass.

iReport: Bostonians rush to support stranded visitors

Right now, as the authorities try to figure out who did this and why, what the rest of us can do is take a moment to focus on the humanity that followed the tragedy.

Doing so will remind us that America is bigger and stronger than these events -- that we don't have to let fear change us as it has before.

Jared Keller, a native Bostonian and director of social media for Bloomberg News, compiled a short but powerful list of the helpers in Boston. Among them were people who ran toward the site of the explosion -- rather than away from it -- to try to help the people who were injured. They were marathoners who "kept running, all the way to Massachusetts General Hospital, to give blood" after the blasts went off. They were, of course, the police officers and other first responders who were photographed in numerous courageous and selfless acts, including carrying this small person away from the scene. "Many were fleeing," wrote David Abel from the Boston Globe, "but many were running to the wounded. They ripped down the metal barriers separating the runners from spectators. Unsure of whether there would be another explosion, these strangers risked their lives to help other strangers, performing CPR, comforting those in shock, and carrying the wounded to the nearby medical tent."

Andrea Catalano, a freelance photographer, shot this photo about a mile from the Boston Marathon finish line. He wanted to capture the outpouring of support from spectators and people in the area, comforting and assisting runners.
Andrea Catalano, a freelance photographer, shot this photo about a mile from the Boston Marathon finish line. He wanted to capture the outpouring of support from spectators and people in the area, comforting and assisting runners.
Among the chaos, kindness emerges
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
Among the chaos, kindness emerges Among the chaos, kindness emerges
8-year-old killed in Boston bombing
Boston witness: It was a war zone
Boston remembers the bombing victims

Others protected each other during the explosion.

Dr. Allan Panter treated victims at the site of the explosion, according to CNN's live blog. "I saw at least six to seven people down next to me," he said. "They protected me from the blast. One lady expired. One gentleman lost both his (lower) limbs."

They were runners who offered jackets to each other. And they included a photographer who walked through pools of blood to try to capture the horror and humanity of the scene, all while holding back tears of his own.

Outside that northeastern city, they were technologists who scrambled to publish tools to help relatives find their loved ones and to help stranded visitors find a safe place to stay the night. They were joggers who hit the streets in their own neighborhoods even though the blast may have shaken them up.

On Monday night, Dan Conley, Suffolk County's district attorney, took the microphone at a news conference and put words to these sentiments.

"It was a large and disturbing scene. Like each of you I am praying for the victims and their loved ones. It is a terrible, terrible day for them," he said. "Seconds after those bombs went off we saw civilians running to help the victims right alongside members of the Boston Police Department and Boston EMS. And in the hours that followed police and medical personnel from across the region have sent dozens, maybe even hundreds, of volunteers to help us here in Boston.

"That's what Americans do in times of crisis. We come together and we help one another. Moments like these, terrible as they are, don't show our weakness, they show our strength."

That was true in Oklahoma City and New York. It was true in Norway, where people responded to a 2011 massacre by gathering around an Oslo courthouse to sing.

And it's certainly true of Boston.

"Moments like this, and our response to them," Conley said in another press conference on Tuesday morning, "define who we are."

It's understandable to be shocked by these events and to be a little wary in the hours after tragedy. But as the "helpers" in the wake of the Boston bombing reminded me, we are more the same than different, and more good than evil.

We're all geared to be helpers.

And that's who we'll continue to be.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT