Thursday, September 01, 2005


I DON'T KNOW anyone who isn’t riveted on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, deeply concerned, thinking and praying for the survivors, the ones who didn’t survive, the helpers, and those who have loved ones not accounted for.

I DO KNOW individuals who are handling it differently.


Perhaps exchanges such as one I saw today are going on in your office. When Marta walked in, with her usual big smile on her face, she asked Amanda, “Do you have plans for Labor Day?”

Grimly, Amanda replied, “No. Not really.”

“No one seems to,” continued Marta, just making conversation. “Everyone I’ve asked has said they didn’t have anything planned. I guess everyone’s just tired.”

“”Marta,” said Amanda, curtly, “It’s a little bit hard to think about a vacation with what’s going on in New Orleans.”

“Why?” asked Marta, truly puzzled.

Amanda rolled her eyes and turned back to the computer to watch the video of rescue activities.

Marta turned the corner and headed into Patrick’s office to ask him if he thought a person couldn’t be happy until everyone in the world was happy.


People handle grief and compassion in different ways. Both Amanda and Marta had taken part in their office’s Katrina Relief Drive earlier in the week, and both had covered for other employees who were trying to contact friends or relatives in the Gulf Coast area.

Marta, however, was concerned, had helped, and was continuing on with her life as usual, while Amanda, also concerned, also having helped, felt it inappropriate to live her life as usual at such a time.

Either way is A way of handling such a tragedy, no more, no less. Amanda thinks Marta is being “shallow,” and “self-centered,” while Marta thinks Amanda is “dwelling,” and “over-reacting.”

As we make our way through the aftermath of the hurricane, which is likely to go on for a long time, we’ll have different emotions and reactions, as individuals and as community, and certain things are predictable because we each cope differently with emotions.

Some want to vent about it every free moment, while others would prefer to stay focused on work. The talkers like to share feelings with others, and find it comforting. The workers like to keep their mind on the work to get some relief from thinking, i.e., feeling, about it. Contrary to what is often assumed, it is the thinker-workers who are feeling it more deeply.

Some of us respond publicly to major tragedies involving large numbers of people far away whom we don’t know, and send something impersonal, though extremely helpful, like a check. Some of us respond privately on a one-to-one basis to the individuals we encounter daily who are in need, with a hands-on, “I’m-here-for-you” approach that’s ongoing and personal. Either way, the people in the world who need help, get it, and the people in the world who need to give help, get to give it.


There will never be a time when someone, somewhere, isn’t in pain. In this same office where Marta and Amanda work, for instance, there are people struggling with personal issues of monumental proportions – this week, and every week.

Tom found out last week that his only child has cancer and the prognosis is not good. He’s planning to take his family to Disneyland over Labor Day.

Lucha is trying to figure out how to support 3 children on her minimum-wage salary, with a car that just broke down, an ex-husband who will not pay child-support, and aging parents who also depend upon her. Lucha plans to spend Labor Day working overtime on Saturday and Monday because she needs the money.

How should you handle the hurricane disaster? Is it right to take a vacation when so many are suffering? Is it insensitive for Marta to smile and make plans, or is it Amanda who’s insensitive to brood, and drag others down with her ruminations and incriminations? Does it make sense for the office to send a thousand-dollar check to a hurricane relief fund, when Lucha, one of their own, needs a new car?

We don't need to answer these questions, because we don't need to ask them. We each have different personalities, different coping styles, and different pain-thresholds, and there will never be a lack of needs to respond to.


In the aftermath of 911, we, as a nation, learned skills for coping with major tragedies, and they’re worth repeating. “Major” in this sense referring to “numbers of people impacted,” because, along with not judging how others cope, we need to avoid comparing, and “rating” tragedies. Edward, in the corner office, lost his wife last year, and while the numbers lost in New Orleans are staggering, so was the loss of one person to Edward.

In whatever manner comforts you, manage your emotions, and those of others -- and let us pray that in the best of possible worlds, those who need to talk find those who are able to listen.

Take care of yourself, especially if you’re a caretaker, not allowing yourself to get too tired, too lonely, too hungry, or too overwhelmed – and in the best of possible world, those who are stronger can shoulder some of the load for those who are not.

Limit the time you spend watching the disaster, as once you know it has happened, sending a check helps, but watching television does not. Protect your children (and others who are vulnerable) from the over-exposure.

Do something to help – and in the best of possible worlds, give in proportion to what you have been given. But act upon your compassion, because then it can be felt in the world, not just inside you.

Remember that while there is suffering in the world, cruelty, and injustice, at the hands of nature and at the hands of people, there are also days of incomparable beauty when the sun shines brightly, the breeze is gentle, and the rivers stay within their beds, and there are also people who care, people who comfort, people who are kind, and people who are fair. Our world is neither all good, nor all bad, and nothing lasts forever.

If you’re able, attend to the weak and vulnerable. Children see this on television and need explanations, and to know that their own world is safe; and so may the old and the infirm and anyone else already at his or her limit.

Remember that it is their turn now, and will be your turn some day – both to suffer and to alleviate suffering – because that’s the way life is, and we’re all in this together.

And dare to be happy in an imperfect world. Celebrating Labor Day and enjoying yourself -- with a picnic, a trip, or sleeping in -- will not affect the victims of the hurricane adversely. It’s not a zero-sum universe, and you will be of use to no one if you are exhausted, cynical, depressed, or negative.

©Susan Dunn, MA, THE EQ COACH, . Providing coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. I train and certify EQ coaches worldwide. for information on this fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program. Email for fr** EQ ezine.

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