Trying times come to everyone and sometimes to everyone at once. When tragedies affect the whole country, things change. People tend to step up to help those who are having a more difficult time than they are. This truth sometimes surprises people. In the case of trying times, barriers break down between people of different backgrounds and statuses and most people know that everyone is the same inside, regardless of external factors that are sometimes used to divide.
This seems a little odd when we think about how stress generally affects people, but it turns out that it is a natural reaction for people, after stress, to band together and help one another rather than being angry and unkind. Scientific studies have found that to be true. It is assumed that this is because humans have a sincere need for social connection, which becomes more important in stressful situations.
Dale Carnegie said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” This seems to fit particularly well when discussing disasters, because it can be easy to lose hope in the face of so much devastation, but the innate spirit of people can make such a big difference.
In America’s last few decades, there have been some situations where this was more obvious than at other times. The United States have weathered a variety of storms, both literal and figurative, and come out the other side stronger and more united than before.
1941, Pearl Harbor
Early in the morning on December 7, 1941, a horrendous attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor shattered the illusion that the United States was safe from the war that was raging in Europe and Asia at the time. The shock and confusion that racked the nation was followed by a season of working together in ways that had not happened in decades. People united against a common enemy and did everything possible to support the efforts and keep the country going, from collecting scrap, rubber, and paper to buying war bonds to help support the military. President Roosevelt declared New Year’s Day 1942 a Universal Day of Prayer. This unity lasted for the next four years and led to a great victory.
2001, September 11
The terrorist attacks that resulted in the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City was devastating to the whole nation. Thousands of people lost their lives and millions of people mourned – and then came together to help. Volunteers helped with recovery and cleanup. People ran fundraisers to aid those who had lost family members. Efforts were made to offer comfort and hope in the midst of a terrible tragedy, and people banded together to support each other.
2005, Hurricane Katrina
Katrina started in the Bahamas and built up strength as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico. Landfall in Florida caused a bit of damage and it also caused damage in Texas, but its most infamous damage was to the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, which was decimated when 80% of the city was flooded after the levees failed. The people who lost their homes found compassion and assistance from their fellow citizens as shelters and homes were opened to the displaced, volunteers in the tens of thousands traveled to help, and donations and fundraisers helped those who found themselves in need.
2010, Haiti Earthquake
Even though Haiti is not a part of the United States of America, its disaster touched the hearts of the American people and the people of the world at large. Donations of money and supplies poured into the country along with thousands of volunteers who aided in cleanup and recovery. Both celebrities, who helped make the efforts visible, and ordinary people helped in any way possible.
2012, Hurricane Sandy
People who lived in the area but were not at home when the storm was coming found that neighbors had secured their loose belongings. During and after the storm, rescues were carried out by rescue teams that kept people safe even as their homes were swept away. People whose homes and belongings were spared gladly helped those who lost everything. Compassion and kindness reigned, brining hope and care to those who would otherwise have had none. People shared fuel, food, and other resources as they began to become scarce due to the extended lack of power. People showed up to help from all over the country.
Doubtless there are others. Local situations such as house fires, tornadoes, and other things that result in loss and danger tend to find friends and neighbors pitching in to help in any way they can. This relentless kindness is one of the best things about human nature – that bit of a hand up when it is so sorely needed.
Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” These instances show that there are many who will rise to the challenge. They will help people who are suffering to see that “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” (Carl Bard)