Hurricane Katrina has hit all of us in America, both literally and figuratively, close to home. Initially, the most startling thing to me was seeing, in report after report, news media personnel covering the scene and breaking down emotionally. This experience was personal to them, so it became personal to me.
Seasoned reporters were actually crying or raging for all of us to see in wondrously honest displays of their humanity in proportion to the experience of what they were facing. I must confess to a part of me being thrilled because here they were, connected with the moment that lived inside of them for all to see.
This was not really professional behavior on their parts because we expect our professional reporters to be more than human by NOT being affected by the things that they report to us that are designed to affect us.
This is the way things go. We specify groups of individuals in our society to handle things that the rest of us don't want to deal with. We ask them to do it in a limited amount of time, most often handling a tremendously high volume. We ask them to do it and then leave the experience behind them, as if it actually did not become a part of them. In that process, we almost demand that they be of a different make-up than ourselves; as if it takes a more-than human to do that kind of work, deliver that kind of service, handle those kinds of pressures or act in that particular way.
It does, especially in view of our expectations. The problem is, the majority who desire to be insulated from the pain of being human expect of those who do handle it for them to act as if that pain doesn't exist. To make matters worse, those in the services who act as if such things do exist are often removed from providing the service because being affected like a human being implies not being able to be the machine that is able to perform the service.
And we believe we need those machines.
Something very vital is missing here.
Where it all breaks down is the majority of us assume that just because an individual can handle a specific burden for the rest of us means they are able to handle all aspects of that burden. The one aspect consistently neglected is coming to terms with one's own humanity and vulnerability and emotions in the midst of providing the service. That cannot happen in a vacuum. We need each other.
In our current culture, we do not allow our heroes to come full-circle in their experience of being human beings. We send human beings into the fray (whatever name you may give it), require them to act as machines, and then, when they get broken, do not provide them with a path back to their humanity.
The reporters in Louisiana, because their job was to witness for us, were the most obvious example of what happens when humans meet the limits of their humanity. They were merely the tip of the iceberg of the people that are being called upon to be machines to deal with this disaster.
They were so uncharacteristically "visible" as human beings, it was shocking. And how did that register with most people? That made the experience of watching the coverage of Katrina's aftermath so real, so very disturbing, that many are actually start asking questions of themselves and others. The questions coming up are about poverty, race and war. And that is happening, but we are faced with some very important choices. Do we point fingers and ascribe blame or do we examine what it means to be a human being - at whatever level of service, from citizen to First Responder to President - called upon to face disaster?
Unless we learn to start mobilizing ourselves in a different direction, as soon as the shock-value of Katrina (or Tsunami, or suicide bombings or, or, or...) wears off, we'll be back to the same old soul-depleting approach that, in its essence, promotes the continuation of our creating disasters such as war and poverty for ourselves and the world. We tend to do anything we can to avoid the impact that our choices have on other people. Yes, I was happy to see some highly visible personalities exhibit their humanity. But how did their personal stories unfold? The cameras lingered (uncomfortably) and then faded out or pulled away, leaving us with an image of a professional at their personal edge of some form of pain. We think, "Oh, how terrible for him, I hope he can pull it back together, he was such a good reporter." And then we switch the channel. What a huge opportunity we're missing!
What if, instead of fading out and moving to another reporter with his or her shit together who is covering the Mayor insinuating the Governor's neglect who then blames FEMA, we kept those cameras trained on the affected reporter for as long as it takes him or her to work through that immediate experience?
Having been a paramedic for twelve years, I can attest to the fact that most of us would be surprised at how smoothly the process can go when people learn how to be supportive of other people having emotions.
The reporter did his or her work. The news got out in a timely manner. The coverage was good and perhaps most of all, real. And now, we are asked to continue watching as the reporter goes to someone he or she trusts and asks to be witnessed, or held, or given room to grieve - some evidencing of a human being dealing with the dilemmas of being a human being with the help of other human beings.
And you know what we'd find? We'd watch as the reporter, having taken a bit of the edge off, would then be able to get to the next story and do what he or she is supposed to do. In the newsroom I'd design, we'd check in with that reporter periodically to witness the longer process of recovery from trauma. Meanwhile, he or she would continue to do the job. Chances are, though, in the present paradigm I'll wager that most of the crews supporting their Anchors didn't have a clue what to do, but, touched as human beings, found some way to be there. But chances are also that that support was geared towards getting the reporter back into his protective shell so the next job could be done.
My point is, were this kind of exposure given to the process - at the very least acknowledging that there IS a process - many many more of us would pick up the skills to more equally share the burden of being human rather than shifting the weight of disaster to fall on people whom we ask to be machines.
Most every person involved in vital protective agencies such as police, fire and medical services, the military and its adjuncts are the professionals we depend on to "carry" the weight of crime, violence, debility, death and tragedy. If I had to find one Universal phrase to describe the core dilemma that each faces - even under normal circumstances - it would be this: "There but for fortune."
We, especially in the US, live under the illusion that life is forever, that suffering is aberrant and that all will come out well in the end, not to mention that we are the heroes of the world. This is not reality and members of the core agencies I mentioned know this better than most. Our culture demands that they suffer with this knowledge alone.
Were that suffering to be more evident, more out in the open, more evenly acknowledged and shared, it would put into better perspective how much suffering we actually create for ourselves and others.
If we could begin to see that, then we could begin to make things different for the good of all.
Russ Reina shares his experience in the healing arts (beginning 1968) through his web site http://www.firetender.org which is a potent resource for those wishing to deepen their abilities in connection and develop their powers as healers. I provides links to his book Moments in the Death of a Flesh Mechanic...a healer's rebirth) and to his art, counseling, music and workshops.
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