Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~Plato
There is something about a natural disaster that brings out the best in all of us. Several years ago while living in eastern Washington, the area was hit with over three feet of snow within days. The recent snow storms on the east coast brought back the memories of both the wonder and terror of human existence at the mercy of nature. Within days, collapsing roofs under the weight of the snow turned to fast melting rivers of water running through town and into homes everywhere.
Neighborhoods banded together; filling sandbags and moving livestock, tending and feeding children. As hard as it was, my memories of that time are happy. It was enlivening and as connected to a community as I had ever remembered being. As time passed and life settled back into routine, I felt a loss. I missed feeling part of something bigger and having a sense of purpose with other people that was bigger than all of us.
Seeing the images of towns under feet of snow recently, I have wondered about what communities are forming to deal with the depth of snow.
This is no different than the large scale disasters in recent times in Haiti and New Orleans. In fact the bigger the disaster, the more that the existing social structures fall and ordinary people become quickly heroic, transforming chaos into order. Rebecca Solnit explores this idea in her book A Paradise Built in Hell, where she says, “Our response to disaster gives us nothing less than “‘a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become.'”
The experience of rising to the occasion and coming together in a community of shared purpose eliminates both our social alienation and the distractions of daily life. People are fully present and connected — even in the midst of great loss, the connection that people feel is often the experience that lasts. The question is how can we tap into this altruism and kindness without a crisis breathing down our neck?
We can start by refusing to believe in the cultural myth that kindness is a virtue for losers and practice random acts of goodness for their own sake. The human capacity for goodness that triumphs in crisis is always within us, waiting to experience true connection. A good practice for the quest.