HELPING OTHERS AFTER A NATUAL DISASTER 1 vs HURRICANE MATTHEW 0

     Living on Tybee Island, Georgia for the past seven years has taught me much. Each and every day I learn more and more about life, people, and more importantly myself. Having gone through the humbling effects of Hurricane Matthew the past few weeks has shown me firsthand about the importance of God, Nature, and Man. Without all three working in harmony… we would be nowhere.

     This natural “cleansing”, if you will, by the first two powers shows that Man alone isn’t “… all that, ”(as my students used to say). Lately, it appears that with what’s going on in the world a little destruction was in order. Who hasn’t been annoyed, and I’ll also say embarrassed, by the Political Arena. In the states affected most by Hurricane Matthew: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina- we have had a diversion of sorts.

     But this piece is not so much of Politics, Business, Loss and/or Profit associated with this latest natural disaster, but rather of people and how we can be better at what we do and how we do it. The irony is that this thirteenth named hurricane of this calendar year, 2016, brought it all to light. Lucky.

Georgia hasn’t taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in more than a century and only four minor storms made landfall here during the 1900s. Georgia’s three worst hurricanes all occurred during the month of August and all came ashore in the Savannah vicinity in: 1881, 1893 and 1898. So, choosing Tybee Island a laidback, eclectic, and accepting place to live and write was a no-brainer. I could go to the Atlantic Ocean to walk, write, and pray anytime.

Imagine my surprise when after one hundred years plus… we encountered Hurricane Matthew. I was not mentally prepared for what I saw when returning to the island. Many people lost homes, cars, and all their worldly possessions. Huge two and three hundred year old trees with 3 and 4 feet circumferences lay across roofs and streets. Water stood, and still stands, everywhere; the mosquitoes start biting in the early morning hours. I had seen this happening on the television to others, but now this was mine to embrace.

As the entire county of Savannah, Georgia and Tybee Island needed to evacuate… it took almost eleven hours of stop and go traffic to get to almost the Alabama border before arriving at a hotel I was lucky enough to book on-line that morning. It was a bit better coming home five nights later. It is a thrill to see power and cable workers here from Alabama, my shelter home, helping us to get things up and running. No cable, phone, or Internet for over a week. Yesterday, I stood in line for over 3 hours to pick up the mail at a neighboring town as our post office will not be up and running for 4 to 6 weeks. But at the 2½ hour mark, a woman who had stood in line herself the day before… walked in with 2 dozen homemade cupcakes.

The idea that helping others is part of a meaningful life has been around for thousands of years. Aristotle wrote that finding happiness and fulfillment is achieved “by loving rather than in being loved.” Yet today, many of us seem to be struggling to find meaning by gathering up achievements and often spending so much time at work, the gym, or even alone, that we’re cut off from other people. Have we been headed down the wrong path? (Hmmm. “Path” the word used to describe the direction of a hurricane.) New research is providing more and more evidence that kind and helpful behavior causes us to feel that our lives are more meaningful and discovering what we can do to reap those benefits.

Psychologists have distinguished between two types of mental/physical well being: hedonic well being (a sense of happiness in life) and eudemonic well being (a sense of meaning and purpose in life). Although “happiness” and “meaning” in Life overlap significantly, researchers suspected that helping others is especially crucial to developing a sense of meaning. University researchers have found that having strong social connections, and not necessarily with friends, was important for both our happiness and meaningfulness in living. This has been so evident in the aftermath of the hurricane as workers from many states have come to help and aid those in need. When I thanked an American Red Cross worker for their help yesterday, they replied, “It is my pleasure.”

Does helping others promote a sense of “meaning?”

But, does behaving in a kind and helpful way actually cause us to feel that our lives have more meaning? While it may seem intuitive that helping others goes along with a meaningful life, it’s possible to imagine a variety of different explanations for this. Perhaps, those who feel like their lives have meaning are more motivated to help others or perhaps, some other factor (for example, being religious) causes people to be helpful and experience more meaning in their life.

More on Kindness                          Practice:

  • Random Acts of Kindness (RAK s): Feel happier by doing things for others. (They don’t even have to know it was you; it’s more fun that way!)
  • Saying “Hello” and asking, “How are you doing?” or similar. How often do people pass each other in silence or not even a glance?)
  • Loving-Kindness thoughts/ prayers: Strengthens feelings of kindness and connection toward others.
  • Reminders of Connectedness: A subtle way to induce kindness, particularly in kids. (It’s never too early to start kids on “doing” things for others. As they get older they will rarely be the ones with their hands out to get something they haven’t earned.”
  • Encouraging Kindness in Children: Praise kids in ways that make them more kind to others. This is the best of “paying it forward.”
  • Start small. You don’t need to begin with grand gestures; even small ones make a difference, but do something for others everyday!
  • Make your helping count. It turns out that not all types of giving have the same effects on us. In particular, helping others can be especially effective when you can see the specific impact that your actions have. Even someone smiling back at us, who normally doesn’t, means we are having an impact!

Take time to thank others. Expressing gratitude towards others can be a giving act too. When others take time to do something nice for you, making them feel appreciated can help build your relationship with them and make your life more meaningful. 

Make our own “to do” List shorter. There is always someone/ someplace that needs immediate attention over our own personal needs. Prioritize!

Amazingly, I personally have beaten all the odds. I am so blessed with minimal loss from Hurricane Matthew, but in doing so gained an entirely new perspective on the power of Humans and kindness in giving of ourselves as we join forces and struggle to clean up, help, and encourage those less fortunate.