May 18, 2013
Written by Joe Pisani
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 10:46
What has always frightened me about disasters, beyond the magnitude of destruction and the loss of life and property, is that while they can bring out the best in us, they often bring out the worst.
They can open the tiny portals into our souls, and in microscopic moral detail, reveal us to be either selfless people or selfish people. Sometimes I shudder when I see what I’m really all about. Instead of courage, there’s cowardice. Instead of caring for others, I’m caring for me.
A crisis can magnify our character so much that acts of compassion and kindness are elevated to what saint-watchers call “heroic virtue,” while acts of greed and self-interest are shown for what they truly are, classical evil.
The examples are many. A store owner price-gouges because people are rushing to buy water and food. After all, he reasons, everyone has to make a buck.
An old man struggles down the stairs to escape an office building during an earthquake, and scores of people rush by him while one or two pause to help, but then even they abandon him to save themselves.
Amid the hysteria and turmoil, maybe one person makes the sacrifice and stays with him to her own peril. Meanwhile, the rest of us with shaky consciences breathe a sigh of relief because someone is doing what we know we should have done but were too afraid to do.
As the hurricane approaches, a car with a mother and children is stranded on the side of the highway, and she waves for help, but motorists pass by because they have their own lives to worry about.
On the occasions that I’ve been the one to pass by someone in need, I’ve thought in a moment of self-deception that it didn’t necessarily make me a bad person, even though I couldn’t deny that it illuminated my selfishness in a very painful way.
I’m reminded of that parable of the Good Samaritan, where two people walk by the traveler who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead. To their thinking, they had good reasons to keep walking. However, when you’re the one lying by the side of the road, watching the parade of passersby look the other way, it can lead you to despair.
There were examples like that during Hurricane Irene, in the supermarket aisles, at the gas station lines, and in the flooded areas where people were stranded.
And yet, sometimes goodness still shines through, and it can be an inspiration for all of us — most especially 10 years ago on 9/11, when terrorists hijacked four jet airliners and slammed them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
That day, there were many heroes who acted with exceptional grace. Some thwarted the terrorists who intended to slam a jet plane into the Capitol, and many more rushed into the World Trade Center while everyone else was rushing out.
They were ordinary men and women who found that thing called “heroic virtue” inside themselves when the world needed it most.
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