Disasters Generate Altruism

Disasters Generate Altruism

Amidst the images and stories of the bombings of hospitals and schools in Ukraine, we’ve also seen, every day, images and stories of people sheltering together, people carrying elderly and injured on their backs to safety, people setting up soup kitchens and sharing food, blankets, medicines.

I’ve been intrigued as well with the stories and interviews in A Paradise Built in Hell: the Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit. Similar inspiring stories of people’s altruism, generosity, caregiving and support spontaneously emerging during extraordinary disasters. Startling examples of the bottom-up resilience and mutual aid of ordinary people, from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, etc.

Solnit’s point is that the spontaneous arising of communities of people helping other, across divisions of class, race, gender, faith, is not new. People helping each other, often in very spontaneous, creative, even joyful ways are the natural blossoming of humanity’s true nature. Yes, people can get panicked, selfish, rageful, and those behaviors are often what’s focused on by the media and by authorities. But far more people remain open-hearted and open-handed, and that can go remarkably under-reported.

Yes, we’ve seen ordinary people in eastern Europe and all over the world open their hearts and their homes to now more than 3.9 million refugees streaming across the borders. And that renews our faith in the essential goodness of human beings, even in the midst of war and unfathomable destruction.

“Look for the helpers,” Fred Rogers taught. Our neighborhood has become global. And we are the helpers. Always have been; always will be.