I once had a boss who was wise, and I sought his counsel on how to deal with an employee who was the antithesis of wise. “Don,” he said, “Over the years I’ve learned that most people don’t wake up in the morning intending to do ill.”
That stuck with me, and it has been very helpful in learning to better accommodate the broad range of human behavior. Sometimes I forget this wisdom, especially when human behavior seems to indicate a clear intent to do wrong, as in the choice by some people to steal from Hurricane victims.
For the most part what we’ve seen during our recent back-to-back natural disasters is people choosing to set aside ego, mistrust, prejudice, or some combination of the many things we invent to separate ourselves from each other.
I think the kernel of truth in the wisdom shared by my former boss is also at the core of the selfless behavior we have seen from here to Texas and beyond to the forgotten fires raging out west, where over a million acres have burned while the networks gave us minute by minute coverage of the hurricanes. That truth is mindfulness.
Mindfulness brings us into the current moment, where the past does not haunt nor the future frighten. It reminds us of the bond we share with all of humanity, the legacy of a single small planet circling the outer fringe of one galaxy among countless others suspended in space. Isn’t it remarkable that the shape of a galaxy and the shape of a hurricane is so similar?
There, just for a moment we were in the present, all of us sharing a ride on our lifeboat charting an unknown course through the cosmos. We just experienced mindfulness, a state of being foreign to someone setting a fire or looting, or engaged in numerous other behaviors we find reprehensible. The attention of such people is subsumed by ego, self importance. To a lesser degree, so is the attention of the person who cuts us off in traffic or indulges in some other rude behavior. When we are also self-important, we are offended. When we are mindful, we consider that the person tailgating or cutting us off may be rushing to check on an elderly parent who has been without power for two days.
There are those who say that our recent series of disasters is God’s judgment on a nation gone astray. I disagree. Was it also God’s judgment that no major hurricane touched our shores for nine years? Or that over 1200 people died from flooding in Bangladesh during the same week that Harvey flooded the Texas coast?
Human history in its entirety is delineated by one disaster after another, but there is not enough paper in the world to print the history of the day to day moments of peaceful existence and ordinary struggles. Our attention has, once again, been artificially stimulated by the sellers of advertising, or have we forgotten Y2K and the end of the world in 2012 already?
If a series of storms is not God’s judgment, it certainly is an opportunity. We have an opportunity to practice mindfulness, to see beyond our own reflection in the mirror and to reflect on the human condition.
And that’s exactly what we are seeing. Neighbor helping neighbor, public servants, linemen, law enforcement, firefighters, EMT’s and National Guard, all working above and beyond the call of duty. Donations pouring in and volunteers traveling across country at their own expense to help strangers.
So if God is the one sending these disasters, perhaps it’s not for punishment, but for education. Well played, God.