|Satellite image of Hurrican Sandy
“We pull together” at times like this, help one another out, share the load, make sure that our neighbours are safe, clothed, fed and warm.
It was a bad time for folk on the eastern seaboard of the US, as it had been a few days earlier in the Caribbean.
“We pull together” though, and we do. Life continues.
I heard similar sentiment expressed 20 months ago whilst living in Christchurch, New Zealand. The city had just experienced it’s second, and most deadly and disastrous, earthquake. 181 people had been killed, buildings had collapsed, homes had been engulfed by liquefaction (a word that very few of us had heard until those fateful days).
Where I lived cliffs had tumbled with some houses teetering on the edges whilst others, at the bottom, had been crushed by rocks falling upon them. One man had been innocently picking strawberries for lunch when he was struck by falling rocks. He was never to eat that or any other lunch. Another had been crushed by a rock the size of a house behind the RSA building.
“We pull together” though, and we did. Within hours, farmers from the hinterland were loading their utes and trucks with gallons of fresh water and delivering it to us city dwellers. People were going door-to-door checking on neighbours, especially the elderly ones.
Without electricity or water those that had access shared with those that didn’t. Those that had friends and family missing were comforted.
“We pull together". In my suburb, within a day or so of the earthquake, a spontaneous community-driven information, support and distribution centre was established. The first parcels of fruit cake from a community 1,500 km away in the North Island arrived. Packets of soup and cans of fruit and vegetables materialised. Not even the pets were forgotten – dog and cat food was donated.
A week or so later a young man who was a builder turned up with his tools in his truck from Invercargill, a 7 or 8 hour drive away. Introducing himself he simply said “I’m here to help, who needs assistance?” He helped people with their dangerously damaged chimneys, repaired windows and doors. He stayed for a week. As did another man, a plumber, from Nelson 500 km to the north of the city.
“We pull together.” It was heartening, it was gladdening, it was humanity working at it’s best in the worst of times.
If Then, Why Not Now?
We can pull together in the worst of times. Why, then, can we not do so in the best of times?
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is yet to come, but the experience of many other disasters around the world, including the Christchurch earthquakes, suggests that once the disaster is over then we often return to the same order as before the disaster struck.
We return to communities and societies in which poverty exists alongside enormous wealth, where families live in overcrowded dwellings whilst others rattle around in spacious opulence. We return to an order in which many do not get the health care they need, where children grow up in abusive environments and where the elderly or those with disability are ignored.
“We pull together.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could hold fast to the compassion and generosity that emerges during the worst of times and continue pulling together during the best of times?
We can. In order to do so we must resource and encourage the bottom-up approach that arises during the worst of times. We must also ensure that community development works to strengthen that approach.
In short: cut through the red tape, dispense with big brother knows best, allow and enable community development to emerge.