In light of the recent tragic earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, my thoughts have been brought back to the feelings that compelled me to go down to New Orleans and all that I learned from those I met there. The echoing refrain after Katrina was "never again, never again." Never again would we allow neglect, prejudice and incompetence to turn a natural disaster into such a colossal human tragedy. So my question is, can we look at the response in the past few weeks and see what we have learned?
Experts say Chile's response to the 8.8 earthquake has been a model for disaster recovery, despite the failure of the navy and emergency preparedness office to issue a warning of the impending tsunami that took 100's of lives. In Haiti, lack of infrastructure has made relief efforts tragically less successful, despite the overwhelming response and financial aid streaming in from organizations and individuals of the international community. The question remains, will those billions of dollars be utilized to help the people who need it the most and leave the country and its people better off? And while it's sad to have to ask it, I'm glad the very real potential for mismanagement and corruption is being acknowledged on the international stage. I don't think enough light was ever shed on the rampant misuse and misdirection of funds following Katrina.
As bleak as the outlook feels at times, I feel empowered when I think about the impact individual action can have. We saw it in action after Katrina, how people who forced their way into the flooded city, risking life and limb, rescued stranded people and animals from rooftops and attics. How individual efforts, when added up, equalled 15,000+ pets saved... pets who then made life bearable again for someone who had lost everything, pets who went on to bring joy to a new family.
I was profoundly moved by the compassion and empathy I witnessed as individuals stepped up in response to Katrina. It also struck me that there are limits to our compassion, that for some people it's easier to feel compassion towards animals than towards other human beings or even themselves. For others, compassion is reserved exclusively for human beings as though expanding that would come at the expense of humans. My hope is that we learn to recognize our limitations and to see the potential of expanding the scope of our compassion to be more inclusive. I believe we stand to gain as a civilization when we understand the value and interconnectedness of all living beings and the dynamic environment we live in.