One enduring image from last week’s news coverage of the devastation Hurricane Harvey loosed on Texas is the line of people forming a human chain to reach those stuck in a car in deep water. No one cared about their political affiliation, where they worshipped or their country of origin. These people acted immediately to save the lives of perfect strangers — no questions asked. And while that image is ingrained it is only one of many that we all saw while people in Texas looked out for each other, reached out to each other and worked together for the whole community.
And now we watch and wait as Hurricane Irma, which has already damaged Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, heads for the US Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Florida. And again there will no doubt be many images we see and stories we read of total strangers working together to help those who endangered by Irma’s winds and water.
It is very gratifying in one sense but also sad that it takes a natural disaster to get people to come together. Or as CBS’s Steve Harman put it Mother Nature has “pounded us with perspective”. The question is what do we, the people, need to do to ensure that ‘perspective’ doesn’t fade with the retreating winds and water.
If we can offer a helping hand to a total stranger in times of disaster, why is it so hard for us to do the same on an ordinary day? One important step we can take collectively is to practice civility: to say “hello”, hold open a door, listen instead of cutting someone off, remove our bag from the last seat on the bus. We need to make a collective pact — as a nation- to begin the hard work of reviving civility in America. And it will take us all to make that happen.
We can learn a lot from our fellow Americans, not only in the midst of disaster but every day. But to do that we have to be willing to reach out a hand — to offer a smile, encouragement or an ear. To be strong communities and a strong nation we need to learn a lot from each other, regardless of whether we are a democrat or a republican, a Catholic or a Muslim, or whether we cheer for the Red Sox or the Yankees.
America is great, in large part because she has been a melting pot from the very beginning. We have welcomed people from every country, every race and religion. We have melded traditions from many different origins together to create our own uniquely American traditions. We are, each of us, an important piece of the larger puzzle that has made our country the shining star of democracy for the rest of the world.
But to keep that star shining bright we need to relearn how to listen and talk with each other and work together on our shared goals. We can’t only come together in times of disaster, we need to come together every day. We can start by practicing civility every day. Please join us at www.nicd.arizona.edu/revivecivility.