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Why the worst can be good for us

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle has caused physical devastation and uncertainty, but it was never going to be enough to break the spirit of New Zealanders. From the sodden ground many tales of heroism have emerged, from the saving of neighbours to the saving of stock. Despite government worries for the fragility of its subjects in a crisis, humans regularly perform greater than is expected of them. In the London Blitz of WWII, many in Government believed societal breakdown was imminent. Officials thought the moral effect of an air attack would be ‘out of all proportion greater’ than the physical consequences, with the Ministry of Health stating cases of neurosis were ‘not only inevitable’ but ‘a probable menace’. Police requested soldiers be sent into the city to maintain order. This psychological collapse did not happen. The collective endeavour gave people a sense of purpose and usefulness, which kept morale high. There were no new mental disorders, and mental health among the population was no worse, and perhaps even better, than it was before. Later studies showed children who left their parents to evacuate to the countryside fared worse in their mental states than those who stayed. A collective task to persevere is the greatest bond that humans have, and it consistently produces remarkable outcomes. While co-ordination and leadership have an important role to play during hardship, the feats of everyday people should not be underestimated.

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