THE LESSON OF KATRINA
The lingering lesson of Hurricane Katrina is the great value of self-reliance and the terrible danger of dependence.
It was a huge storm. Possibly the largest natural disaster ever to hit the United States. It was the storm of the century.
But it taught us more about human nature than it did about the power of nature. More frightening than the storm itself, was the widespread personal failure demonstrated in its wake.
It was a peek into the entitlement culture and a sad display of the unwillingness and inability of some Americans to take the slightest responsibility for themselves and their wellbeing.
Certainly, this is a generalization. There were clearly many people and communities who stood up to the storm and its damage stoically, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and working tirelessly to clean up and rebuild.
But they didn’t make the news.
Instead, the year since Katrina has been a national sob session. It’s as if we’re all paralyzed by some giant fit of post-traumatic stress disorder. We have made whining an art form, and a year’s news coverage has been an endless rehash of just two stories – the pathetic helplessness of individuals and the incompetent failure of government.
We have spent a year celebrating weakness, enthroning entitlement and demanding sympathy. It has been a shameful time, not for what the government didn’t do for the people, but for what they seem too good or too lazy to do for themselves.
First of all, this wasn’t the world’s first disaster. Certainly it was historic, but it was not unprecedented. Calamity has been humankind’s near-constant companion. All peoples in all times have been faced with incredible challenges, large and small. Fires, earthquakes, floods, tidal waves, plagues, blizzards, droughts, famines and even hurricanes.
And through them all people have survived. They have dug deep and found in themselves the grit and determination necessary to survive. And if they didn’t, they didn’t. They died. And stouter, tougher people took their places.
Because we are a species of survivors. At least we used to be.
But the example of Katrina was something else altogether. Instead of displaying the best of human strengths, it highlighted the worst. Instead of showing people’s native toughness, it showed their selfish weakness.
At least it did on the news.
Countless sob stories talked about displaced people whose highest ambition seemed to be sitting on a cot in an evacuation center angrily wondering when they were going to get their FEMA trailer. Sometimes you didn’t know whether it was the wake of a disaster or a giant welfare scam. People angrily demanded that somebody come do things for them.
It was the welfare mentality at its worst. A selfish, chip-on-the-shoulder sense of entitlement that recognized nothing but unreasonable desire. There was no consideration of the difficulty of relieving an entire region of the country, of the physical impossibility of serving so many people instantly. A sub-culture of dependent people, demanding instant gratification, bit the hand the feeds them.
Even now, after a year, the only politically correct perspective on the hurricane is the one regurgitated nightly by the evening news – sob story after sob story of people demanding that somebody do something. While invariably the people involved have done nothing to help themselves or anyone else.
And don’t expect to hear a word of gratitude.
After astounding amounts of taxpayer money were sent for relief, more hundreds of millions were donated by concerned Americans. And all that has been heard from anyone is a cry for more, more, more.
Compounding it all has been a relentless attack on the federal government with the seeming intent of damaging public confidence. That has presumably been done as a partisan media attack on President Bush, but it has come at the cost of national peace of mind. A year’s worth of trashing in the press has reduced public confidence in the government’s ability to respond to a disaster by between a quarter and a third.
Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster.
Our response to it has been a national disaster.
Not the government response that has been the staple of a year’s newscasts, but the personal response which those newscasts so often showed to be shameful and failed.
Those who have done best in the wake of this disaster are those who were self-reliant, who took the cards they were dealt and made the most of them. The ones who worked and cleaned and rebuilt.
While those who were dependent, whose mindset was based on the assumption that others had an obligation to take care of them, have failed miserably. They have whined for bigger payments and more services, gotten both and insisted that it was not enough. Each new largesse has engendered not gratitude, but anger. Each new benefit has created more dependence and personal failure.
It hasn’t been a pretty year.
We learned about the ravages of nature and the weaknesses of men.
At least according to what we saw on the news.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2006