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Nieszczur: What about 'times of tragedy' unites people?

September 6, 2017

Hurricane Harvey has been battering the southern United States for over a week.  Just logging in on social media brings the utter despair of those affected by the storm closer to home.  

 

Videos of babies floating down streams in tubs, animals tied to posts left to the fate of the storm, families sleeping in clothing stores, people barricaded in their homes often with no food and freeways turned into raging rivers are the unfortunate true fates facing Texas and Louisiana.  

 

According to The New York Times, in just four days enough rain fell on Harris County, Texas to “run Niagara Falls for 15 days” or to “fill the Houston Astrodome 3,200 times.”  

 

Over 30 people have been pronounced dead from the storm, with numerous others still missing, separated from their families, or seriously injured.  

 

Numbers like this put it in perspective for me. This is a time of great tragedy in our country.  

 

However, in a time so terrible as this, citizens have never felt more united or ready to help. What is it about tragedies that band people together? Especially of late, it seems that the “United” States is more divided than ever.  

 

People are butting heads over politics, causing riots over racial issues and discriminating against those of different faiths, cultures and sexualities.  

 

For myself, it can often feel hard to have a sense of pride in my country because of all the negativity we are engulfed in.  However, history tells us that times of tragedy let us momentarily forget our divisions and differences and band together. 

 

Events such as 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and the Asian tsunami were all times when Americans felt more pride in their country.  In the weeks following Sept. 11, 97 percent of people surveyed by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago reported that they would rather live in the U.S. over any other country, which was a seven percent increase in response compared to the time before .  

 

Democrats and Republicans forgot their political ties. Blacks and whites forgot their racial differences. For a moment, we all joined hands to raise funds, goods and emotional support for those in need.  Why is this?

 

A study done by Markus Heinrichs and Bernadette von Dawans at the University of Freiburg, Germany found that acute stress can lead to more cooperation, friendly behavior and positive social interaction in men.  

 

This was a sharp contrast to research done by Shelley Taylor that found that men respond with “fight or flight” in times of chronic stress.  

 

The key finding here was our response to chronic stress, which constantly beats down on the body for extended time periods, varies greatly from our response to acute stress, which is intense stress in a short burst.  

 

While our response to chronic stress is often to be cranky, irritable, divided and unfriendly, our response to acute stress is to resolve the issue, work together, and increase social ties.

 

Humans have an inherent need for social interaction.  Our dependence on one another has allowed our species to survive. In the face of devastating acute stress such as Harvey, feelings of national pride, companionship and giving come forward.  A silver lining? Perhaps.  

 

However, I challenge everyone to develop these positive feelings not only in the face of tragedy.  We should strive to find ways to have pride in our nation every day.  

 

We should look for small ways to help our brothers and sisters, rather by donating blood, volunteering at a food bank, or collecting supplies for the needy.  

 

As a country, we need to put aside our divisions and see each other as the humans that we all are. 

 

I believe that it should not take times of great distress to unite a nation but that every day should be a new opportunity to knit our great country together even closer. 
 

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