Human Nature and Disaster
Rebecca Solnit presents a sort of silver lining for moments of disaster in her essay “The Uses of Disaster: Notes on bad weather and good government”. She suggests that the attitude of victims who go unscathed is often not of despair but instead a strange euphoria. Perhaps this euphoria is the product of a realization of life or as Solnit suggests a momentary escape from the normal pull of life. Regardless the natural attitude of disaster victims is not what one would expect.
What’s more, victims seem to become best friends with total strangers and a willingness to help seems to grow exponentially. My question to you is this: does disaster bring out human nature or does it skew it? In other words, is it human nature to be friendly, helpful, kind, and optimistic?
I would venture to say yes. But then why is it that this natural tendency comes out only in moments of crisis? Perhaps it is daily life, competition, long work hours, bills, obligations, intensive schooling, that clouds human nature. When we are busy participating in a world that is not so natural (in fact very manufactured) it seems likely that we forget and leave our natural tendencies behind.
So we live in a world filled with unnatural stresses that take over and become the center of who we are and what we do. But then something happens to shake the world we have created and it falls to the ground in pieces. It is almost as if we are reborn. Our focus is on nothing but the now and this allows us to claim our natural instincts once more. Disaster strips us of everything but life allowing us to focus clearly on what matters; the people around us and life itself.
Times of crisis seem to be a helpful reminder to almost everyone that what is important is not the money earned or status reached. Happiness does not come from a powerful job or multiple cars. Instead it comes from the people around us and the joy of living life.