It has been difficult for me to comprehend the extent of loss and suffering of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Watching the television news clips, and seeing photos online of the total devastation of entire communities, it’s hard to believe that something like this could happen so quickly. Within a matter of days, comfortable neighborhoods were transformed into dangerous swamps where property was destroyed and lives were lost. How does a community respond to such a crisis?
It might be helpful, first of all, to look at the word itself: crisis. I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that, in the Chinese language, the word “crisis,” as we understand it, requires two characters. It’s interesting to note, however, that these two characters have stand-alone meanings, as well. One means “danger.” The other means “opportunity.”
The danger associated with Hurricane Harvey is obvious. We see the images every day. The unthinkable destruction of property and the heartbreaking loss of life are undeniable realities for the people of Texas. It would be easy for us to focus our attention on these things. Yes, the danger is real. But where is the opportunity?
The well-known children’s television personality, Mr. Rogers, once shared some valuable advice he received from his mother. When he was a small child, his mother had told him that whenever there is a tragedy, whenever there is any type of catastrophe, “Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.” This has certainly been true in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. In addition to the predictable first-responders — fire, police, and ambulance personnel — countless individual citizens, out of the goodness of their hearts, stepped-up to assist those in need, often putting their own safety at risk to do so.
This is the opportunity of Hurricane Harvey. At a time when our country is so fractured by competing ideologies, when hatred and intolerance are highlighted on the evening news, we are reminded that people are basically good. We are presented with incontrovertible evidence that our country is overwhelmingly good, while acknowledging a presence of evil, rather than overwhelmingly evil, with a presence of good. It’s unfortunate that it takes a disaster to help us recognize this reality.
Across our nation, people are responding to the crisis in Texas with incredible generosity and kindness. Donations of money, food, clothing, blankets, and human blood are being collected from coast to coast. Additional help has arrived from Mexico. Perhaps this response is the result of enlightened self-interest, as people recognize that the devastation affecting the southern states at this time might just as easily affect them in their hometown at some time, and they choose to respond to the Texas crisis as they would hope others would respond to a crisis in their area. Enlightened self-interest is not a bad thing. At least people are responding to the crisis at hand. I would hope, however, that some individuals are responding out of a genuine sense of compassion — helping others with no expectation of receiving anything in return. I’m grateful that many such people do, in fact, exist.