Scenes from the first day in Sydney

Scenes from the first day in Sydney
D, the Opera House, and the Bridge

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Meaning-making in the face of loss

So many thoughts these days... I would imagine that the wildfires near Melbourne have been in the international news. The devastating effects of the wildfires have left a real pall over things here in Southern Australia. People are trying to make sense of the tragic scale of the losses, the horrifying and sad stories of both victims and survivors, and perhaps most inexplicably, the fact that several of the fires seem to have been the result of arson.

As was the case with Hurricane Katrina in the United States, there was scarcely a pause before politicians and climatologists, city planners and environmental groups began pointing fingers and ascribing blame. Certainly, there is responsibility involved here... the way that policies developed in favor of reducing carbon emissions have also put populations at risk by not doing controlled burns of the highly flammable eucalyptus forests. This was a failure to think through the potential consequences of these policies, and to take a complex, systematic, and long term view of the issues. And then there is the failure to initiate adequate warning/communication protocols that would connect people with the latest news about the dangers of the fire, and offer contingency plans to protect people. Worst of all, there is the criminal behavior of arsonists, who have, in the words of Kevin Rudd the prime minister, committed mass murder. And along with the finger pointing, there are certainly those who are still scrambling into action, joining volunteer rescue efforts, donating clothing and food, helping to contact relatives and friends of those who have died, been hospitalized, or are still missing. Indeed, there are still fires still burning and people still at risk.

At the same time, I have the same sense that I did immediately following 9/11--in addition to all the appropriate forms of reaction and response, the task seems to be to take some time and face the loss... absorb the pain of it, allow the reminder of our mortality and the fragile nature of life to sink in. My sense is that this task is usually too hard, too unbearable, and as a result, we swing into actions that are more in the service of helping us feel better than they are to really deal with the root issues. Perhaps I am biased too much by what I would call our reactivity after 9/11... I'm not sure.

Well, it's late and these days have actually been quite full with conferences. More about that later. G'night!

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