Acting and Learning After Disaster

Wherever we turn, things are falling apart. This is what it is like to live in a time of immense change. Put in fancy terms, we are alive in a time of discontinuity, a time of punctuated equilibrium. How do we live in these times?

What do we do when we lose our job, or a spouse, or our health and the world we thought we understood suddenly collapses? What do we do when the normal of our lives vanishes in the course of of few hours after a tornado or a tsunami? How do we live when the community we are part of is suddenly fractured?

After disaster hits, the first stage is for rescue and emergency — just getting things stabilized. Then comes a period of resilience where all involved do the best they can to use what they have to start up again. Someplace in that second stage a question starts to emerge — do we try to return to our old normal, or do we create something new. The third stage is launched based on the response to this question.

There’s usually tremendous pressure just to go back to the old normal. But disaster cracks the present and lets new light in. How do we work with that light?

It always starts with making it easy for people in the system to listen to each other, sharing stories and dreams. Slowly, through more conversation they begin to create something new together. When things fall apart, people learn to stand up while standing together. This combination of individuation and collectivity is the energy that calls communities to life.

Members of the NewStories Team work in disaster situations. Bob Stilger  and Susan Virnig have been doing extensive work in Japan since 2011 when earthquake, tsunami and nuclear explosions ravaged the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan. The same year Simone Poutnik was hosting conversations in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Just after the turn of the century, Maaianne Knuth’s heart called her home to Zimbabwe where she began to build Kufunda Learning Village as one antidote to the country’s social and economic collapse. In Greece  Maria Scordialos has stepped forward to find new ways to support people who are creating new economies with what they have.

We don’t have to wait for things to fall apart to take new action. But when they do fall apart, the potential for new action is huge.