Disasters Bring Us Together

11/07/2012

 

Hand held globe photoIt never fails that when we need our fellow man the most, that’s when the kindness of strangers becomes apparent. From 9/11 to Katrina, and most recently Hurricane Sandy, we’ve been able to rely on the kindness of someone we’ve never met as much as friends and family. 

It’s because, according to a story in Time, those coping with disaster are the most altruistic. It’s been days since Sandy and police in Newark have yet to report any looting or crime. Instead, it’s been cases of checking on the sick and elderly and sharing the few homes with power in hard hit areas so that people can recharge phones. 

9/11 was a time of solidarity and even Katrina, though crimes were committed, was often much the same. 

According to Time:

Although Hurricane Katrina brought awful (and frequently false) rumors of horrific crimes, the experience for most people during the immediate crisis was one of coming together. As the authors of a 2008 study exploring myths and facts about disasters wrote, 'While there were well-documented instances of brutal hijacking, rioting, and looting in New Orleans after the deep flooding caused by the hurricane, there were many more reports of altruism, cooperativeness, and camaraderie among the affected population.'

Rebecca Solnit describes this tendency in her book A Paradise Built in Hell. The bonding hormone oxytocin tends to lower levels of the stress hormones in times of need. During times of disaster our social networks largely determine our fates. 

She said in Time, “I feel often that we don’t have the right language to talk about emotions in disasters. Everyone is on edge, of course, but it also pulls people away from a lot of trivial anxieties and past and future concerns and gratuitous preoccupations that we have, and refocuses us in a very intense way… In some ways, people behave better than in ordinary life and in some disasters people find [out about] the meaningful role of deep social connections and see their absence in everyday life.”

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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