Why does it take a tragedy to bring out the best in us?

Photo credit: hahatango / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: hahatango / Foter.com / CC BY

Without fail, whenever a terrible event occurs there are stories of people performing incredibly selfless acts to help the victims.  Monday’s bombing in Boston was no exception. The media’s bombarding of our airwaves with video clips of the terrible thing shows that even in the earliest moments after the explosion many people ran toward the carnage. It’s evidence that there are good people who are ready to help when others are desperately in need.

However, there are many instances in everyday life when people are in need and nobody helps them.  So, what does it take to get people to sacrifice their time, efforts or even finances to aid them?

The response to the attack on 9/11 displayed the incredible resolve and bravery of the people of New York City.  Yet, New York is far from the friendliest city.  I know ’cause I lived in that area for nearly a decade.  A quick bit of research this morning revealed a California State University at Fresno study that ranks the helpfulness of 36 cities in the United States.  They were chosen because they were the highest per capita contributors to the United Way campaigns in the nation.  The second lowest on the list – number 35 – was New York City.

(By the way, another city I’ve lived in – Rochester, NY – was number one on the list.  Congrats Rochester!)

Just because a city pulls together in an amazing way in response to a tragedy that doesn’t mean its average residents are particularly helpful in their daily experiences. Which leads me to wonder (yet again).  Is there a common threshold that thrusts people into action to serve others?  What does it take for the average person to engage in relieving the struggles of those around them?

Maybe it’s an adrenaline thing.  I still remember one of the first episodes of the ’70s show The Incredible Hulk.  A woman, whose child had been pinned under the car as the result of an accident, found the strength to lift the car to free her child all by herself. When drastic things happen there is some kind of chemical thing that happens that gives us the ability to respond as needed.

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The problem is that most of the time people need the kind of help that has nothing to do with tourniquets or CPR. We don’t help because the scene isn’t urgent enough to spur us to action.  That’s because we don’t see our world through Jesus’ eyes.  It’s almost as if he couldn’t help himself.  If someone was in need he had to give assistance, even when he was pooped out because of a long day of ministry.  And, how often were they people who were on the sidelines of society whose suffering was considered par for the human course?

I believe that most of the people reading this would have run toward the explosion in Boston to help save those people.  The question is, do you run to help those suffering without food or in abusive situations in your community?  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see through Jesus’ eyes because it will provide you with sufficient spiritual adrenaline to make it happen.

Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

(Matthew 14:14, NLT)


5 thoughts on “Why does it take a tragedy to bring out the best in us?

    • No doubt, to the first question. But according to the survey I cited, there is a lot of help in less dramatic instances that that goes undone as well.

      I’m not sure about your second question. If you’re suggesting that we probably notice people helping in dramatic situations more than those who help with every day situations, that sounds viable to me. But then again there’s that study that shows that even in the most helpful cities a significant percentage of people in need go without assistance from strangers. I am curious to know if the people who didn’t offer help in the study would have helped in Boston.

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