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5 Lessons From A Hurricane

Only a few miles from where the lightbulb was invented, I am forced by a lack of illumination to type this blog by candlelight. In my five decades, I have never personally experienced the amount of destruction Hurricane Sandy brought to my home state of New Jersey. Friends and family not only lost power, but many also lost homes, cars, and dreams as well. During this challenging time without much access to television and internet, I had the rare opportunity to reflect on the lessons this storm has taught me. These five ideas are useful whether you have suffered the ravages of Sandy or not, for someday you too will experience your greatest challenge.

1. You Should Appreciate What you Have Before It’s Gone

Now over one week without lights, refrigeration, hot water and having had to move my family from our powerless home, I have learned to appreciate all the simple luxuries that I have taken for granted. Even if the hurricane is not directly affecting you right now, what things might you be taking for granted right now in your life? I promise that doing an “appreciation inventory” will improve your outlook regardless of your situation. Not sure of a things you have to appreciate? Friends, family, food, running water and life might be some great places to start your list.

2. There is a Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy

As news from around the world travels faster and faster, we are inundated with tragic stories on a daily basis. Being exposed to these stories, it is easy to become desensitized to the gravity of the events that occur around us. In a way, these stories can be hard to imagine as real. This is why is it easier to feel sympathy than empathy. When you have sympathy, you feel bad “for” someone. When you have empathy, you feel bad “with” them. Still confused? The following story will help to better illustrate the subtle difference between the two words:

Every year for his birthday, a young boy asked for a puppy. His parents, concerned he could not care for a puppy told him that on his 9th birthday, he could get a puppy. On this day, his parents took him to the pet store. The boy saw a number of puppies, but was attracted to a cage holding five teeny, tiny balls of fur. These were newborn pups, but as he looked closer, he noticed a sixth ball of fur by itself. Immediately the boy asked, “What’s wrong with that little dog?” The store owner explained the little puppy didn’t have a hip socket and would always limp. The boy became excited and said, “That is the puppy that I want.” The store owner said, “No, you don’t want to buy that dog. He is never going to be able to run and play with you like the other puppies.” To his surprise, the boy rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled leg supported by a big metal brace. He looked up at the store owner and softly replied, “Well, I don’t run so well myself, and this puppy will need someone who understands him.”

3. Your Great Challenge Will Reveal Your Character

As a result of this legendary storm, there have been opportunities for people to either be heroes or villains. The following are a few examples of how the storm has brought out the best and worst in people:

The Heroes and Villains

As the hurricane took New York City and taxi drivers were ferrying people for free to safer locations and hundreds of power workers traveled from across the US to help restore power in the Northeast, there were also looters robbing businesses and homes. While towns opened shelters, created food drives and people with electricity selflessly dropped extension cords from their windows to power the less fortunate, others were stealing generators and fighting in lines over a few gallons of gas. When the daring rescuers of the Coast Guard were saving lives at sea and the heroes of NYU’s Langone Medical Center carried 260 patients down 15 flights of stairs in the dark, some business owners were devising plans to raise prices.

These examples prove that while greatness can shine during our darkest hours so can man’s need to exploit. During your time of strife, which person will you be? The following story might help you realize which path you would take:

Many years ago, there was a devastating earthquake in Kobe, Japan. An old woman was selling small amenities like water, towels and blankets at less than the regular price. While she worked, a customer asked her why she wasn’t raising prices astronomically to take advantage of the short supply. Her answer proved that in her time of challenge, she was a hero. Her answer, “Why would I want to profit off someone else’s pain?”

 

4. If You Want To Help Yourself, Help Someone Else

While reading about different reactions and responses to the hurricane, I was given another lesson: When you focus on yourself, it is harder to help or motivate others. I was amazed to read how two teenage girls had totally different responses to the storm. The first girl was in a rage being unable to access the internet while the other was honored to bring food and water to fellow victims of the storm. The first girl was only able to think about herself, while the other realized more pleasure came from helping others. Both were in the same place, yet one was miserable and the other happy.

If you want to be happy, make someone else happy. Trying to motivate yourself doesn’t work, but when someone needs help and you motivate them, you get motivated too.

5. Great Stories Need Great Problems

The final lesson taught to me by Hurricane Sandy is perhaps the most important I can share: No great story ever happened that didn’t include a great problem. Think about your favorite movies or books. I am sure if you look hard enough, you will realize they all involve opportunities to overcome great challenges. Winning all the time isn’t interesting. There has to be a setback for there to be a comeback.

For everyone experiencing great challenges in your life right now, this is your chance to be the hero of this story. The times that you are hardest hit are the times that you must not quit.