Natural Disasters Bring Out the Best and Worst in People. Do You Agree?

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Hundreds are dead after the worst earthquake in generations struck off the northeast coast of Japan on 11th March, setting off a devastating tsunami that swallowed swaths of coastal territory and fanned out across the Pacific Ocean, threatening everything in its path. The 8.9-magnitude earthquake -- the fifth-largest in the world since 1900 and the biggest in Japan in 140 years -- struck at 2:46 p.m. local time, shaking buildings violently in Tokyo for several minutes and sending millions fleeing for higher ground. The media keep disaster in the forefront of our minds. TV, radio and the front pages of the press seem to revel in disaster because the public have a morbid curiosity in it, provided that it happens to other people. Disaster boosts TV ratings and sells newspapers. As we absorb the news of a famine, an earthquake, a hurricane, a tsunami, sometimes we tend to put ourselves in the position of the victims and wonder how we would react. In such situations, most people act instinctively, and what they do is more spontaneous than calculated. That spontaneity is usually the subconscious reflection of character, and because life for most of us is lived on an even keel, how we behave in emergency is largely unpredictable, unless we have been previously conditioned to react in certain ways. The recent earthquake in Myanmar gave me a vivid example of two contrasting reactions to the same event. The house of a man received a direct hit from the earthquake which killed one of the daughters of the family. The father was a sincere Christian. He fell on his knees and prayed for the souls of the victims. The following day, what remained of his possessions lying round the shattered house were looted. This showed two very different reactions to disaster. Looting often follows the breakdown of law and order. It is never justifiable, but it may be less reprehensible in some circumstances than others. Some would disagree, but they are those who have never seen a disaster such as a famine. If my children were crying for food and I had the chance to steal a bag of flour to make bread for them, I think I would steal the flour. Would this action reflect the best or the worst in me? So what is it that governs our reaction during and after an emergency? The answer to that question is character. Character is governed by genetic structure, by upbringing and training, and by self-discipline, or its absence. If we react badly, we show cowardice, selfishness and indifference to the plight of others. If we react well, our conduct reflects the opposite of these failings. In the latter case, genetic history alone may govern our actions, but in most cases, people are poised between good and bad. It is then that external conditioning will tip the balance in one direction or the other. However, even more important than training is love, the kind which puts others first and helps us to forget self. This is relatively easy where our nearest and dearest are concerned, more difficult and perhaps more admirable where the others concerned have no emotional claim on us. The old Latin tag "amor vincit omnia", love conquers all things, is most germane to our reaction during disaster. There is also truth in the old Biblical saying – “Perfect love casteth out fear.” Natural disasters are the most devastating things that could occur in this era of globalisation and it is true that it will bring the worst in some of us. Yet there were countless examples of bravery and unselfishness when men would help the wounded or engage hopeless odds with total disregard for their own survival. Some of these actions were recognized by the award of medals and decorations. Most were not. This was in some ways the most admirable product of this century. And whether the disaster is an earthquake or a hurricane, adversity tends to bring people together in a way that nothing else can. It goes without saying that the effectiveness of a service unit depends on the fact that every man...
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