It is commonly thought that an emergency situation brings out the best and the worst in people.
The worst seems to be obvious, when people take advantage or abuse someone who has lost everything. Examples of this include people looting homes after a fire or a flood has caused damage and evacuations. Or those who seek government assistance available to people who suffered loss, even though they didn’t suffer loss. They try to cheat the system, taking resources away from people who actually need it. Taking advantage of others fits into ‘the worst of people’.
So, on the other hand, the ‘best’ is when we see people coming together, being generous, supporting each other, taking care of those who have lost something or someone. Examples of this include when a community brings spare clothes, bedding and other necessities to help those who have lost everything, giving space in their homes, giving money to help, helping rebuild. We have seen this time and time again in Australia when fires or floods have torn people and places apart. It is one of the most inspirational things to see. It also happens far more than the ‘worst’ examples. Helping others fits into ‘the best of people’.
So, why wait for an emergency to take place to be the ‘best’. We can do this every day through our actions and words to those around us. We all know what the best is, let’s remember to do it.
When something touches our heart, we give. We respond to what creates an emotion. The greatest example of that has been the last few weeks when we have seen other Aussie families, people just like us, maybe someone that we know, or a friend of a friend, needing to evacuate because of an enormous fire or fires bearing down on their home. Many have lost their home; some have lost their lives. When this sort of tragedy happens to those that look like me, sound like me and, by sheer chance of choice of residence, could be me, it moves me to respond. So, we begin to imagine what it would be like if that was us – and if that did happen to me, I would really want someone to help.
The outpouring of generosity, volunteering, financial and emotional support, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Some have given out of their plenty, but many have given out of there little. People are working extra shifts and donating their pay for that day, business are donating their profits and entire communities are rallying together.
What does this tell me?
In the darkest of times it is generosity that shines the light. When we act for the benefit of someone else it brings out the best in us and our country, and it breaks down the harmful, artificial barriers that we put up between groups of Australians.
During times like these I am reminded that, no matter where we live, we are all one tragedy away from being forced from our homes, running for our lives and needing help from a stranger. It may not feel like that to you now, but I am sure 6 weeks ago thousands of Australians would never have imagined it either.
If we can take that attitude of humility with us into this next decade then Australia will continue to be a very generous nation indeed.