aside My close friends and family are aware of my struggle to make sense of the response to the destruction in Haiti. I have been called cynical, off-base, and cold-hearted by the people who love me most. Many people have difficulty understanding my perspective on Life. I see the world as though from a distant planet and I don't get too wrapped up in the drama that plays out on a daily basis. I see our lives as analogous to a trip to an amusement park: we enter from a peaceful place in the cosmos, have exciting, terrifying, emotional experiences (punctuated by moments of calm and comfort) and eventually go home. It's all very temporary seen through the perspective of universal time.
When a major catastrophe occurs, like the one in Haiti, the most common response is, "Oh heavens! How horrible! What if that were ME?!?" and people immediately rush into the middle of the drama and do everything possible to rescue the poor victims. We are so afraid of pain and discomfort that we have an intolerable need to intervene when someone's pain strikes too close to home, emotionally. The thought of parents losing children is particularly insufferable. As much as I understand and support first response efforts, I admit I have had an existential crisis related to the outpouring of money and "compassion" for the residents of Haiti. I am starting to gain a better sense of the nature of my struggle.
Growth is always accompanied by pain. Kids learning to walk fall down innumerable times and suffer all kinds of injuries. However, we don't bar their progress in order to prevent the pain. Adolescents experiencing growth spurts complain of constant aches and pains. Advanced societies no longer partake in rituals such as foot-binding to hold back natural growth. Forests need to burn occasionally to regenerate and encourage new life. It is now known that our quick-response strategy of putting out forest fires immediately has done damage to the ecosystem. Old civilizations fall and make way for greater advancement. No one thought it would be a smart idea to rebuild the pyramids and move in.
Pre-earthquake Haiti was riddled with social, economic, and political turmoil. This disaster leveled all elements of society, including some of the symbolic and actual structures of power. What an opportunity to reflect, redefine, and start anew! When outside entities sweep in with money to patch things up right away, they instill the demand for an instantaneous solution rather than allowing time for synthesis and inspired growth. Pain ushers in great awakening and transformation. If Haiti is allowed to feel it's pain, as awful as it may be for them to experience and for the rest of the world to witness, the resulting change could potentially be spectacular. These types of incidents test faith on a deep level—can we trust that opportunity lies latent within a tragedy and will be brought to bear with patience and endurance? The swoop-and-rescue response decreases the likelihood that the Haitians will take hold of this prime opportunity for renewal and advancement.
It reminds me of the one intervention which has proven successful in treating the problem of addiction—allowing the addict to hit "rock bottom". When the family continues to rescue the person with money, resources, and support, the addict never experiences the difficult but priceless opportunity to rebuild himself in a whole new light. It is only when friends and family finally step aside completely that addicts can take full responsibility and experience an opportunity to develop the internal strength to stand on their own. When we see the Haiti situation through the small eyes of fear and allow frustration intolerance to set in, we fail to acknowledge the incredible possibility presented by the destruction. We fail to honor the wisdom of the great cycles of life when we refuse to acknowledge the temporality of material existence and the inevitability of destruction and rebirth.
What if a mother never let her baby's feet touch the ground for fear that he might tumble? How long would it take for that individual to learn his own capabilities? Our rescue instinct is not about the Haitians but rather our own emotional weakness to endure suffering. We have personalized their pain and we want it to end. Most of us first-worlders haven't had to experiencene the significant suffering that we see nightly on the world news. Emotional and physical pain is the most effective method for building character and strength in human beings. If we can manage our own fear and sadness, we too will become stronger and will feel less compelled to fill the role of rescue party to the masses. Let's face it, there is a lot of rescuing to be done right here at home and "compassion" is never as forthcoming as in the wake of a dramatic catastrophe. Let's back off and give Haiti a chance to regroup and rise up from this tragedy as the mythical phoenix from the ashes.