Hope After Disaster: What massive disasters can teach us

This post is dedicated to the memory and 100th anniversary of the Titanic, it’s survivors and victims, and the aftermath of the disaster.

I confess that I have always been a bit fascinated by disasters, most especially documentaries about them. It seems a bit morbid, and often worries me a bit, but I think what I find most interesting is the aftermath of the disasters, how they change us as individuals, as a culture, and the lasting tidal wave of change they bring with them.They also say something about us as a society and individuals, and can both unite us, making us the strongest and best we can be, as well as pull us apart, showing the darker side of humanity.

When I first learned about the Titanic and what happened to her, I couldn’t help but imagine what would have happened if I had been there, if I had experienced it. And I think that’s something which a lot of us experience when we see a disaster, whether a very old one or something we see on the news. It’s human empathy to feel something for the people suffering, to be glad it isn’t you, to hope the news will be better for those who weren’t so lucky, to send a small prayer up for strangers you’ve never met.

I think too our reaction changes depending on what point we’re at in our own lives. I know I was particularly touched / disturbed at the remembrance of the children who died in the disaster, like 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin, for years an unknown child and only identified by painstaking genetic testing; he and his entire family were lost, and he remains in a Halifax graveyard. What would have happened had I been there? If it had been my children, my husband at risk? What would I have done? What would I have risked?

Of course, a lot of our reactions is also a societal and cultural reaction. Today, how many people do you think would step back and away when the cry came “women and children first”?  As with Titanic, some are accepting, stepping back or doing as they’re told, while others scramble and fight each other – even upsetting the lifeboat – all in an effort to save their own skin. Then again, if they’d known then just how catastrophic the disaster would be, how few of them would survive, would more have fought tooth and nail for a place in that lifeboat?

That’s the other thing I find fascinating about disasters: the reactions of individuals, and how it seems to show some truer portrait of the person, bringing out the best and the worst. There are those who become selfless, heroic, courageous to save or protect others. And then too there are those who became like wild animals, intent only on their own survival, their own skin. What determines how they will react? Can we know for certain how we ourselves would act if placed in the same situation?

I think whatever would / could bring about the apocalypse could certainly be considered a disaster as well, so isn’t it likely we’d see some of the same behavior, the same curiosities? Does that mean there’s hope for us, for the few survivors to find a place in the life boats? What will be the reaction of those who hold our fates and lives in their control? Will they react as selfishly, foolishly, and ruthlessly as the White Star Line?

What kind of reaction would you predict? How do you think you’d react?

If you’re still interested in learning a bit more about disasters, here’s a link about a television show that is, unfortunately, no longer available on air. The link does, however, describe the disasters with further information (sorry, couldn’t find any of the episodes online).

Disasters of the Century

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

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