Hard Times Make Fast Friends
Human companionship can be more important than comfort, safety, or affuence in determining the qualifty of a person’s life. For years people have told me that the best times in their lives were when they were involved closely with others. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the situation was pleasant or miserable. Linda Nilson, a Ph. D. , a sociologist at UCLA, reports that residents in communities stuck by natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes) do not panic, loot, and suffer psychological breakdowns. They generally keep their heads, care for one another, share scarce resources, and reach an emotional high as they pull together to face the common challenges of survival and rebuilding.
Many people actually feel better about themselves and their neighbours, she adds, after going through a disaster. They are proud of the way they handled the crisis and touched by the generocity of others, and they look on their part in the common recovery effort as the most meaningful work of their lives. A Nepales woman notes that in no cas on record in Nepal have authorities had to declare material law in a natural disaster area—and she has analyzed more than one hundred reports of responses to such disasters over the past sixty years.
Well, what shall we make of all this? What are the practical implications for how we live our lives to preserve our health? Exhortations to “be friendly” or “smile” won’t be enough, and neither will singing forty choruses of “Up with People.” But it should be certainly be possible to make it easier for people to work togetherand be together if they choose to.
Educational campaigsns should not just teach people to look for the seven signs of cancer, but also give them information they can use to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families: Is this move necessary? What are the real costs of this promotion? What group can I join that will share my interests and generate intellectual and social excitement?
More and more, people are coming together voluntarily to support one another, almost in oppositoin to social and institutional trends. The results achieved by self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous, are impressive; so are thos e of the support groups for people in particular situations, such as those recovering from cander operations, going through divorce, or moving to a new place. It seems that, whatever the self-help group’s philosophy, being in a group is itself therapeutic.
All of us could learn from these examples, but it shouldn’t take a common problem like alcoholism or gambling—or a natural disaster—to draw people together. We need to recognize the importance of community, of touching other people, in our daily existence. Our health, our lives, may depend on it.