The Disaster Mindset: Why do we wait to Give?

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If you’ve not yet read Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe, I’m hoping this may inspire you to do so.  It’s a quick read, yet an incredible look into his research and discovery relating to his personal struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While it was written to shed light on the PTSD epidemic in America, the book walks the reader through the history of community, and its importance in our daily life and our mental health.

The United States and other regions around the world have seen what feels like an influx of natural disasters over the past few months.  And after each, we see a groundswell of support from local community members as well as from regional and international support networks. That’s how most humans are built — a person stumbles and drops their groceries, we help them collect their escaping apples. In fact, “Humans are so strongly wired to help one another,”’ Junger says, “that people regularly risk their lives for complete strangers.”  

These reactions are meant to keep the race alive and become more evident during war. Junger references multiple studies from civil wars to WWII, showing that during times of war psychiatric wards went empty, suicide rates diminished, and homicides and violent crimes went down. An Irish psychologist H.A. Lyons wrote that, “When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose…with a resulting improvement in mental health.”

Both war and disaster create a common effect, the disruption of our modern society. Historically, human life was a struggle. As villages developed, roles became important. Every villager had purpose. Supplies and food were shared with greed and theft being the most egregious of crimes. But as human society grew more ‘civilized’, we began to create independent wealth, class structures, and poverty. In our modern society, most of us no longer need help or resources from our community, pushing us to what Junger describes as a privileged life that falls outside more than a million years of human experience. 

Wealth has created isolation, but disasters have been found to reinforce social bonds and create oneness. After observing neighborhoods hit by bombs during WWII, Charles Fritz noted that people "overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community rather than just themselves.”

If you don’t know me, I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life working at companies that increase engagement within local communities, both consumer- and employee-facing. And in this space, via the advent of CSR and the emphasis on Employee Experiences, I've been hearing a lot lately about Millennials, younger generations' idealistic outlook on a more conscious capitalism, and a greater desire for hands-on experiences. I’ve seen a lot of postulating as to why this generation expects their employers to offer them opportunities to give back or why they expect their coffee to be organic and responsibly farmed, but all I have to say is Thank You.

Thank you for redirecting the mindset of corporations and employers. We are all better off when we express our innate capacity for sharing time and assets with those that live and work around us. However, there is no need to wait until the next disaster; the time to give back is now.   

I’ll leave you with one more nugget from Junger (but you should still read the book!), “There are many costs to modern society, starting with its toll on the global ecosystem and working its way down to its toll on the human psyche, but the most dangerous loss may be to community. If the human race is under threat in some way that we don’t yet understand, it will probably be at a community level that we either solve the problem or fail to.”

Cover photo by Nathaniel Tetteh on Unsplash