Thursday, September 08, 2005

It's called empathy...

As I was surfing through some blogs recently, I noticed a lot of talk about welfare and poverty. Mostly it was connected to the Katrina catastrophe - as in why didn't those people just leave before? The assumption being put out that most everyone in the New Orleans area could have gotten out if they wanted to.

That got me thinking a bit and I decided to put together some rough numbers and requirements to leave the area and head to safety. I based it on a family of five with one pet.

First off, I'm assuming this family has a running vehicle. I think that's fair enough since pretty much everyone reading this will have one or two sitting in their driveways. Now, figure that car gets about 20 MPG and has a 20 gallon tank. At $3.00 a gallon, you could fill that baby up with $60 and realistically figure on getting 400 miles away. That would be great if you have a friend or some family within that distance. Problem solved.

If you don't have a place to stay, you'll need to find one. A cheap ass motel is going to run about $30 a night, if you can find one. Chances of finding one are slimmer if you brought that pet with you. By the way, good luck finding a $30 motel with a big storm coming.

How long are you going to be gone? Is it just going to be a day or two, or a week or two?

The thing is that most of us are sitting here playing the "well, I would have..." game, but we're not even considering the position these people were in. Sit down and try to figure what you would really have to do to leave your home and everything in it behind with little notice. How long did you plan your last vacation? What if you didn't have a credit card? What if you couldn't access your cash? How much do you have on you right now? How far will that get you?

Have you factored in two kids crying, a dog whining, and seeing your wife or husband sobbing? How much did you love that dog you left behind to possibly die of starvation and lack of water? What if - like one family that stayed behind - you only have a pickup and not enough room to fit your entire family in it? Would you leave some behind? Would you send them on and stay behind?

Do you know if your Mother has gotten out already? You've been trying to call her, but the circuits are overloaded, try again. What can you fit in your car? What's essential? How long do you have? Did you leave work early to get out? Did you cash your check? Is there even a bank open?

What if that car doesn't make it? What if it starts stalling again? They said you should fix that thing. Maybe it will be okay.

Throw in some the hurricane going to hit you? Is it going to miss? Did they say Category 3, what 4? Was it 5? Crap, crap, crap... Did you get hold of your mother yet? You try, but you can't hear... Kids! Kids! Shut up! No,'s okay Honey...Daddy didn't mean to get mad...Everything's going to be just fine...Oh God, oh God, why is this happening to us?!

Suppose you did stay. Maybe you couldn't get out. Maybe you thought you would be safer in your own home. Maybe you're just an honery bastard. Why you're stuck in hell doesn't really matter much...

Did you lift your little ones up into the attic as the water climbed up the stairs? How does it feel up there? Is it hotter than shit? I'm guessing it is. How much of that gallon jug of water is left? Maybe you were lucky and managed to grab a couple boxes of crackers and a two liter of Pepsi.

It's been three days.

Does the urine smell yet? The feces? What did you wipe with up there? A shred of paper wrap from the insulation? Nothing. Have you managed to knock a hole in the roof yet? How many helicopters have you heard fly overhead? Have you yelled for help? Prayed for help? How are your kids doing?

Maybe you weren't trapped in an attic. You're lucky enough to be able to wade through the fetid water to what's left of the store.

You can't just take that stuff. Are you kidding? You're not going to let your family starve. You carry as much away as you can, but it's not really much. Hopefully it will get you through until you're rescued.

Maybe you're still in shock, or just starting to feel it's effects. You're frantic. You have nothing. Food is short, water is's getting shorter. You don't have much cash. There's a $300 stereo. Maybe you could trade it for something later. Maybe get a few bucks. I think you'll be disappointed when all you can get is $20. But that's better than nothing right?

Anyway, until people learn how to feel some basic understanding for their fellow man, maybe they should just keep quiet. Maybe instead of wondering how people can loot, and why didn't they just leave, we should be wondering what kind of people allow it to take three days to start saving people.

It's called empathy, it leads to compassion...and if you can't muster a little of it, I don't really want to know you.


Miranda said...

It's easy to want to blame someone else. The mayor blames the outside
help, the outside help blames the local government. Eventually, the help that wasn't fast enough or that didn't save enough, feels guilty and frustrated and looks
for someone else to blame. Who else is there? Those involved who
didn't save themselves. Those who didn't lift a finger to help.

And you're right. Those people
are going through some of the
worst things imaginable. I can't
imagine the policemen who killed
themselves were having a terribly good time.

If anyone wants someone to blame,
they can blame me. Why? Because
I've helped no one. I sit in the
lap of luxury, passing out virtual
baked goods while searching for
jobs and doing menial work. I
could have gone to Louisiana to help and I didn't. So, hey. Blame me and cut the victims some slack.

Laura said...

Thank you Shawn... You said much better the point I've been trying to make to a lot of people - it's not as easy (physically, emotionally, financially) to just "get up and leave" as many people might think.

Jason said...

Great writing -- straight to the heart.

tshsmom said...

Great job, Shawn!
The only "what if" you missed is what if EVERYBODY in NO was able to evacuate? How many days would it take to get outside the city limits with the HUGE traffic jams that would occur?
The whole tragedy was a no win situation.

The Zombieslayer said...

Shawn - That was wonderful.

As for a $30 motel, from experience, you better bring your stuff inside from the car and have a gun on you.

Plus, it's really hard finding a motel with a dog and we'd never abandon our dog. I'm sure a lot of folks feel the same way about their dog.

Slade said...

DAMN!!!! This is excellent writing and I agree with you 100% We need less of the blaming at this moment and more of the help your fellow human. I am so tired of people asking why why why didn't they just leave...IT DOESN'T MATTER NOW!!! They made a choice to stay (or they were forced to stay because of lack of money, gas, and other means) Why should we be bitching and blaming them now that they have nothing!!!

Thanks for this.

exMI said...

Good writing nice points. I still feel though that if you are going to live in a place where things like this are not only possible but probable, then you should have a plan made out in advance for when the issue comes up. I know that is expecting WAY too much of the average human but hey...

Shawn said...

M - Wow, you seemed so nice and your virtual pastries are delish...I had no idea it was all your fault. Dang, that wasn't very nice of you.

On a serious note though, you do have the one thing I wish I saw more of...compassion. It's easy to let ourselves just repeat things we hear without thinking about what they mean. It's also easy to let our own stereotyping cloud our vision...especially during something that's so hard to grasp anyway.

Thanks to everyone for reminding me that there are plenty of good folks out there. We might not all agree, but it's good to know most of the people I interact with on a nearly daily basis are good people.

And ZS, thanks for your nice words on your blog.

jenbeauty said...

Zombieslayer sent me over and agree 100% with your figures. I had argued my face blue with my husband over this issue. So what if those people left, where were the going to go.


Sassy said...

Such a meaninful and inspiring post, Shawn. I think you hit the crux of the issue...poverty. I lived in significant povery as a child and feel that I have a deeper understanding of how hard life can be. Compassion and is certainly needed for these people, not judgement. I loved your thoughts here and I wished more people had this level of understanding about this disaster.

Miranda said...

I just use the pastries to distract everyone while I unleash my wrath on the world. *Passes you some crepes*

But I do think that's one thing that you see a lot of across party lines, not so much in the media, but on blogs, certainly and in real life. And it's nice to know
that even those who are politically
opposed to you value many of the same things you do. I remember
being surprised awhile back by
your post about taking time to make people smile. Leftists are supposed to be selfish all the time, you know ;).

Shawn said...

Jen B - Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment.

Hey Sasstastic - Glad you're still alive. I miss your regular posts. It's easy to look at things from wearever we are on the socio-economic ladder and assume everyone else is in our position too...but that's not usually the case.

M - I'm pretty sure that the lefties love everybody (except conservatives) but hate God and want everyone to have abortions. Oh, and they drink a lot.

The righties hate everybody (except conservatives) but love God and want everyone to talk about praying all the time. Oh yeah, and they drink a lot...

Nice crepe...but I'm not fallin' for the old 'crepe in the comments' trick this time...

Miranda said...

*laugh* And what side are the prohibitionists on?