With hurricanes, earthquakes, and a recent tragedy in my hometown, I’ve thought a lot about the links between tragedy and community lately, and never more so than today. I thought about it running through Oklahoma City on 9/11 seeing the mementos left at the city’s memorial, thinking of the attacks 16 years ago, and the response afterward. Political scientists call it “rally around the flag,” after a national tragedy, the phenomenon of increased patriotism and trust in government. Psychologists have studied how outside threats affect group cohesion, and have found that external threats (perceived or real) increase cohesion. Reagan even posited that an alien invasion might be what the world needed to achieve peace. Anyone who has suffered a natural disaster or great personal loss will tell you how a community comes together. The differences that seemed insurmountable prior to, become insignificant after a tragedy. In ultra running there exist an unofficial philosophy, if someone needs something, and you have it – you give it to them. You don’t hoard it in case you need it later. You don’t ask for something in return. You just give it. Later down the road, if you need something you don’t have, someone will give it to you. That’s clearly the philosophy of survivors as well.
When there is an external threat, one that threatens to destroy us, we quickly discover that we’re all part of a community – whether that’s the local community, the national community, or even a global community of the human species – and we fight to save ourselves, it’s encoded in our DNA. We don’t fight to save our individual selves, we don’t become selfish, we become selfless. Something kicks in and makes us realize that it’s the community we need to save, sometimes at the expense of our own personal safety. I’ve thought about why this is for days, and I’ve come up with some interesting theories – some based on science and reasoning, some based on nothing but Maggie thoughts – like love is the most powerful thing, the universe protects us, etc etc. But honestly, I don’t know why it happens, but I’m sure glad it does.
It gives me a silver lining in tragedy. It provides hope in humanity during the worst possible desperation. It’s the knowledge that while we can’t escape pain, we can have someone by our side, or even a whole village of people. It gives me hope that one day we can tap into that sense of community not only during times of tragedy, but also in times of prosperity. That we can realize in times of peace that we are more alike than others might suggest. That we all have a vested interest in not simply self-preservation but the preservation and progress of the entire community.