Katrina and Community

In the aftermath of Katrina we will re-learn
an important truth–we need each other. When we divide and seek individual
advantage society descends into anarchy, and in anarchy nobody wins.

In the aftermath of Katrina we will re-learn an important truth–we need each other. Community is essential. Our survival depends upon our ability to help each other, assist, lend our strengths to supplement individual weakness. In doing so we not only become stronger, we survive.

Of course we are seeing looting in New Orleans. This is not a new thing. After every disaster there are those who take advantage. But we’ve also seen heroism, as we do in every disaster, people risking their lives for others. Who can see this courage and not be moved? Who can see it and not learn that it is so much better to show compassion, to share and to work together than to retreat into individual pursuits as if others don’t matter? They do matter, and we need to acknowledge this for our own good. It strengthens us to be with others and to work with others.

We re-learn this in crises and we forget it too soon, I think. When life returns to “normal” we go back to a more individualized, privatized, self-serving mode. But at the moment people are asking, where is the federal government, where are those are supposed to preserve order? It’s a tacit acknowledgment that we live in an interactive, interrelated community and we must handle it with care, not with loathing. We never know when we will need the help of others and we need to keep our relationships in good order.

This is not soft-headed liberalism nor muddle-headed thinking. It’s hard-nosed reality. We need vital functioning community to survive. If we descend into rugged individualism, we descend into anarchy. It’s as true in New Orleans as it is in Mogadishu.

The role of the faith community is to transform this reality into a new one. To shine the light of community in the darkness of individualism. The looters in New Orleans demonstrate why we need the supports and constraints of functioning community and governance.

I hope we learn this and in the future I hope we give less heed to the Falwells and Robertsons who undermine an inclusive community. The more we leave people out, under normal circumstances, the less trust they have in communal responsibility when the chips are down, the less they trust the community will care for them when they need that care the most. The end product of this polarizing, demonizing language that we’ve heard from far too many voices lately is a divided community. We can do better.

In the field of communications, a new focus on the value of the Internet’s interactive capacity is being learned. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has moved to Internet distribution during the crisis. And the Internet has become a valuable tool for reaching out to the world beyond the immediately affected area.

The Institute for Interactive Journalism has been looking at innovative models of citizen journalism. It’s really about learning how to appropriate the tools of technology to encourage community, give people a voice and enable people to be engaged. It’s a good time to test these questions, and to make them function in a new and positive way.

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