Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


It Took Harvey to Bring Us Together

By Rob Tenery, MD on August 30, 2017

Just when it seemed that the overall turmoil in this country couldn’t get worse, another tragedy occurs. Instead, the gravity of a particular event sometimes turns things around, at least temporarily.

The perfect example is when this country was pulled into World War II. Those that fought, died or were wounded made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, but so did millions more as who worked in the factories that produced the weapons and materials that furthered the war effort. Then there were also the personal sacrifices in just the basic staples that touched virtually every life in this country. By in large, the country functioned as one.

But certain events can work in the opposite way too. The increasing unrest that first broke out with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014 is a prime example. These anti-establishment disruptions seem to have intensified since the start of the campaign of this last presidential election.

The airplanes that crashed into the two World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon temporarily brought this country together as one nation. With the almost 3000 deaths and another 6000 injured on 9/11, the nation rallied around President George Bush with his approval rating soaring to 86%.

Just this week, the help pouring in to help the victims from the monstrous floods from hurricane Harvey is another example of putting differences aside to help the greater cause.

It seems in good times, complacency sets in and differences come out. In most cases, the opposite occurs following traumatic events. This phenomenon speaks to the basic good in humanity. This is not to deny the occurrence of looting and price gouging, but usually these incidences are outweighed by the good of others.

One only has to look at the assistance pouring into Houston, not only from FEMA, the Red Cross, the National Guard, local law enforcement and firemen, but volunteers and other organizations throughout Texas and across the country as well. At times like this, people pull together. Barriers of race, religion and political preferences are set-aside for a common good. In Houston, rescues from dawn to dusk by helicopters and airboats fill our television screens. But in striking numbers, the flooded streets are also dotted with life rafts, floating beach toys and canoes manned by individuals who have nothing more at stake in the evacuation than to lend a helping hand, not only to their neighbors, but strangers who are in need as well.

This type of response following tragic events like 9/11 and hurricane Harvey speaks to the inherent good in man. It has also been demonstrated in the animal population, but not nearly as often.

A study released by the Common Cause Foundation revealed that 74% of the 1000 people surveyed identify more strongly with unselfish values than with selfish values. This means that “people are inherently nice”, reports George Monbiot in The Guardian published in October 2015. A review article published in Frontiers in Psychology pointed out that three to five-year-olds “are more inclined to help people if they perceive them to be suffering…suggesting that they are motivated by a genuine concern for other people’s welfare, rather than a desire to look good.” In 2013, a study reported out of the University of Virginia is that people are “hardwired for empathy” or the ability to share others’ feelings, which “may explain why people come together to donate money or participate in memorials after horrible events.” Lindsey Holmes, the Deputy Healthy Living Editor for the Huffington Post, pointed out in her article, 9 Much-Needed Reminders that Humans Are Inherently Good that “kindness makes people happier and in turn that happiness makes us kind.”

Although there is much that divides us such as greed and envy, there is more that unites us. The most basic instinct is survival. Mankind has evolved and prospered because, in most circumstances, combined tasking is more successful than individual efforts. But there is more to the beneficence, as being shown in Houston, than just helping others in their fight for survival. It goes back to the ‘inherent good’ in man.





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