Watching the extensive television coverage of Cyclone Larry in recent days, I was filled with a certain pride at how Australians had responded to this terrible crisis. Neighbours helping neighbours; communal bbqs cooking up all the food that would spoil without electricity to keep it frozen; volunteer personnel flying in to the disaster zone ready to help. Aussies helping Aussies.
And what Australian didn’t walk a little taller when we heard that President Bush had offered assistance, but we’d graciously declined? While international aid was offered in kindness, we’re understandably proud of the fact that we could look after it ourselves. We’re Aussies after all – we champion the underdog and rise quickly to a tragedy with both compassion and action.
Certainly, crisis, while never welcomed, provides us an opportunity to learn about ourselves by the way we responsd. Jean Vanier, who founded the L’Arch communities for people with developmental disabilities, said, “Life is a succession of crises and moments when we have to rediscover who we are and what we really want.” Australia is only a young country, in relative terms, but we still have to rediscover who we are.
Author John Garner recognised the importance of renewing identity when he wrote, “Values always decay over time. Societies that keep their values alive do so, not by escaping the process of decay but by powerful processes of regeneration. There must be a perpetual rebuilding. Each generation must rediscover the living elements of its own tradition and adapt them to present realities.”
While we have a society founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, we have many different value systems to consider. Materialism is often promoted, which denies God and relies only on what we can see and touch. We have been taught the theory of evolution, which celebrates natural selection and its idea of survival of the fittest and elimination of the weak. Some cultures that have come to this nation have beliefs and social systems based on karma. They logically conclude that the poor are receiving what they deserve from former lives lived badly, and their current situation is justified and hardly alterable.
While we welcome invite many people to join this nation, we must not shrink from continually rediscovering what type of society we want to be and regenerate the values that build such a strong and attractive society.
Cyclone Larry has afforded us such an opportunity. As a community we have chosen to look after the weakest among us. We have chosen to “do unto others as we would want them to do unto us.”
We acted almost instinctively and reached out with compassion and mercy. If you asked people why they responded as they did, few would refer to the Bible or to value systems or anything grander than it simply being the right thing to do. However, even without realising it, we were, in fact, rediscovering the living elements of our nation’s Judeo-Christian tradition and adapting them to our present reality. We rejected fatalistic approaches, and chose the way of unconditional love instead.
There’s a lot of debate going on in our nation about who we will be and what values we will hold. When we just talk about it though, we often fail to acknowledge the social ramifications of different values systems, for fear of offending those who hold them. Yet when we are faced with crisis, and must act quickly, our response speaks volumes about what we truly believe as a nation.
People often ask where God is in such a crisis. I’d suggest He is in the hands and hearts of those reaching out with love. That’s why it seems just the right thing to do.