Three Important Lessons from Sandy

Posted on

Hurricane Sandy: 10/30/2012
Hurricane Sandy: 10/30/2012 (Photo credit: ccho)

Hurricane Sandy hit landfall just over 48 hours ago, including passing through Manhattan, New York. In a city with more cameras per square inch than anywhere else on earth, it was always predictable that visual reporting of this event would be prominent.

The unforgiving and unrelenting forces of nature often bring about loss and tragedy. Those events are unequivocally sad, and it is right that we should all share in the grief especially because of the loss of life that has resulted. For some, this will be personal. I have already heard on Facebook from one friend who knew one of the people who died. They were walking their dog in Brooklyn at the time of the incident.

Here are the three most important lessons that came to mind when I reflected on when  Sandy came to The City:

Lesson #1: We do not call the shots. Nature does. When nature moves, get out of the way. No one made provision for the intrusion of Sandy in anyone’s planning before the event. How can you prepare for the unexpected?

With Sandy bearing down on the US East Coast, it is a welcome reminder that we do not call the shots. The Presidential campaign for the 6 November election is pretty intense. I don’t know how much money gets consumed in the few short months immediately before the election itself, but needless to say it would be a lot.

I remember back at the end of 2004 during my Army service when I was the Operations Officer responsible to respond to any manner of emerging crisis for the Australian Defence Force. Iraq was in full swing, we had withdrawn from Afghanistan but would commence the planning for the second mission six short months later, and there were countless of other smaller tasks and operations running at the same time in the mix.

On Boxing Day, a tsunami occurred affecting large parts of the Indian Ocean, and subsequently I was called to become intensely focused on helping to respond to the emerging situation. More about the tsunami in another post to come, but suffice to say we cannot really plan for nature.

For all of the interest and money given in support of the election, it was all shelved while all shoulders were put to the wheel preparing for the arrival of Sandy. That was the right thing to do, and it does show that even with the US being the superpower that it is, there are still limits to how it can act. We cannot stop a storm.

POTUS might have the power at his command to rain Hellfire surgically through a window on the other side of the globe. It is comforting to know that with all of our strength, we still must yield and always respect the world around us.

Lesson #2: Death sucks. A bigger inconvenience than Wall Street closing for a few days. Reading the stories of what was damaged in the wake of Sandy, it was sad to learn of the loss of life. Somehow, and for good reason, we still put primacy onto the value of human life above all the materiel damage that can occur. One life lost trumps Wall Street closing down for a short period.

Death sucks. And the reality we are all aware of is that we will all die. This lesson has a more lugubrious note when I reflect on Sandy. I ask myself whether we value one life that we can easily identify with of more value than another in some other circumstance that is completely foreign to us?

We talk about resilience and community spirit in the face of death. My reflection here is that I feel sometimes we see more clearly own parochial concern for our own neighbourhood at times like these. The next time there is a mud-slide or flood in Bangladesh where hundreds of people die (like in June earlier this year), ask yourself where is this same spirit of lament.

Lesson #3: Our obsession for an immediate media fix. Even POTUS gets bumped.  Truth be told, I think there were a lot of Americans who were welcoming a distraction from the Presidential election spectacle that had been unfolding. Even so, it is a pretty important issue. So important that itself is usually able of sucking all of the oxygen out of the room to dominate media focus.

But we have an obsession for our media fix. We are junkies, and don’t even admit to it. Checking your Facebook and news-feeds how many times a day on your smart phone?

Here is the irony: we want news, but we settle for a force-fed diet of rubbish. Most of the world goes unseen by us, and yet we have this irrational sense that we are somehow informed. I especially think of friends like April in Sudan at times like this. Yes, she too will be concerned about Sandy. We all are. But let’s develop the capacity for broadening our horizons, while being attuned to the big changes that are unfolding in front of us.

My three lessons. The last couple of nights, New York sleeps. Finally, time for reflection.