As I sat in front of my television set and watched the umpteenth images and reports coming back from the areas ravaged by the tsunamis, I thought of past disasters, both man-made and natural. From each of them, there could be culled a cautionary tale or warning, some kind of insight for future generations to learn and use. So what could we learn from the rubble of this great disaster? Now that recovery operations are well underway, what can we look back upon in this whole disaster and learn from?
The first lesson that occurred to me was about the power of nature. No physical force here on earth is greater, or has more influence over us. Man has for centuries tried to contain or influence it in some way. From the Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Rain Dance’ of Native Americans to building dams, jetties and floodgates, we use everything from our spirituality to engineering to try to contain nature. The wise people know that this is one battle that will never be won. We must respect nature and its power over us.
Yes, that seemed like the lesson, until I stopped to think about exactly which victims and survivors got face time on the news. The European model whose boyfriend was still missing. The former Chancellor of Germany. I noted that all of these people were from other places, and were spending their holidays in the numerous villas, spas and hotels that cater to rich tourists. All of these people would soon get on a plane and depart, perhaps never to return, unless by choice. Where were the stories of the locals? The people who had to stay behind, to recover and rebuild? The Sri Lankan peasant, the poor Thai farmer? Why didn’t those people get any airtime?
It was as if reporting on the victims and survivors became a battle of the Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Haves’ vs. the “Have-nots”. But if you looked at the pictures of the ruin, the tsunamis did not stop to pick and choose its victims. It swept in and spread its carnage everywhere, with no heed to race, religion, nationality or income. The same could not be said about CNN, Fox News Channel and the like. Here they were, obsessing over the very things the tsunami ignored. I even read several reports where they mentioned that one of the areas hit was “where the film Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed.”
WOW! Was it really necessary to mention a movie starring a Hollywood heartthrob for people to care? Have we really spent so long on top of the food chain that we can’t relate unless they mention a forgettable, poorly written and uninspired film? Why wasn’t it enough that people were dying or dead? Why did we have to Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½glam it up’? The human themes of death, grief, loss, and destruction should have been enough for us to relate.
We are all human, after all- all of us reading this, everyone there on vacation, everyone who was native to the land. The tsunami was the ultimate example of equal opportunity- it’s completely unbiased collection of human life put us all on the same scale. There was no rank or pecking order here. Everyone was equal, everyone fit into one nice category- human. And therein, perhaps lies the real lesson. Not one of mortality and nature, but instead our humanity and equality at its hands.
Only time will tell if this lesson will take hold, if those who consider themselves above such things will be knocked down a peg. But remember this- it could have happened on one of the coasts of Europe or North America just as easily. And the Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½bag lady’ or homeless man on the corner will get swept away just as quickly as the investment banker or heart surgeon. And it doesn’t take mentioning an actor or a movie to understand that.