Facing Adversity At Home And Abroad

My heart and my prayers go out to the people of Japan. But at the risk of sounding callous, a part of me actually envies their situation. Not that I wish that kind of death and devastation upon anyone, nor do I long for the overwhelming heartache and hard work that lies before them. But when it comes to adversity, I’m beginning to think that overcoming the known difficulties of a natural disaster might be simple in comparison when facing the unknown obstacles of an un-natural one.

For as bad as things will certainly be in Japan for years to come, they are faced with problems that all have straightforward and attainable solutions. With the earthquake and tsunami wiping out the coastline, the country can quickly unite to meet the basic needs required for survival: potable water, durable shelter, and the staples of a minimal diet. Once the basics have been met, they can move to the next level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs; roads can be cleared, buildings re-built, and power lines re-strung. Although the scars will always remain, eventually, the country will rebound.

Unfortunately, the problems facing this country are a little less certain. The disasters we face are unnatural ones, and the causes are our own. We’ve ignored the laws of common sense, manipulated the conventions of economic theory, and skirted the rules and regulations that made this country great, all to serve our own selfish, short-sighted interests.

In no way do I intend to demean the unbelievable amount of pain and suffering faced by the people of Japan, or of those in Haiti, or even New Orleans. Rather, I’m suggesting we may be grossly underestimating the possible difficulties that lie before us in our man-made disaster.

The difficulty starts with even recognizing there is a crisis looming.  In Japan, no one in Tokyo can deny the devastation in the northern territories. And therefore, all are willing to accept their roles.  Here in Ohio, many don’t accept that there are problems, and therefore seem unwilling and almost unable to even discuss possible solutions.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggested states such as Wisconsin and Ohio were not, contrary to popular belief, in any financial crisis, since their bond ratings were still sound. The argument was essentially this: since the States could still borrow more money, they were not, in fact, broke. That’s like saying yes, the bank has repossessed your house and your car, but since you’re still getting credit card offers in the mail, don’t worry, because apparently you’re still financially stable.

Even if we can agree there’s trouble, good luck trying to come to some sort of consensus as to how serious it is. Are we facing Tokyo-sized setbacks, where shops are replacing some windows and restocking shelves? Or are we living next to the Nuclear Power Plant that’s threatening to melt down? That’s the problem, no one really knows. What’s worse is that our trust in our elected officials is so diminished we probably wouldn’t believe them even if they had the guts to admit it.

The trouble with pushing through legislation like State Bill 5 isn’t that it’s too harsh or too tame or that it restricts this or doesn’t solve that; it’s that ANY course of action seems drastic when you’re not convinced that action is required in the first place. If our elected officials had any sense, they’d figure out that you’ll never get people out of the building unless they believe you when you say it’s on fire.

Sometimes Mother Nature isn’t always clear. We might get a little tremor, or the river might crest just before it spills over the levee. But eventually, our desire to master our domain leads to that one last engineering feat that produces catastrophic failure. Like Icarus, eventually we fly too close to the sun and are quickly brought back down to earth.

Arrogantly, we more often elect the politicians that promise us solutions over ones that actually demonstrate knowledge of the problems. We all want the ocean front property but don’t want to be bothered with talk of flood plains or hurricanes. We live on fault lines and in the shadow of active volcanoes and blindly ignore the odds of earthquakes and avalanches. We tell ourselves everyone should own a home, have a job and get an education but rarely pay heed to the difficulties in how to pay for it. We all see the trappings of an opulent society and are all too eager to believe that those we elect can sustain it without our own personal sacrifice.

I do pray for the people of Japan, and my heart is breaking for them. I also pray just as hard for us, because unlike in Japan, our failures are less obvious and our path less clear, but the pending disaster that will shake the very foundation of our society is every bit as inevitable.

Read More on Perspective
Volume 7, Issue 6, Posted 2:15 PM, 03.22.2011