The word came out of Nicaragua on Thursday evening that an earthquake had rumbled through an area near the capitol city of Managua. (I heard the news from my colleague there; news from Nicaragua is very rare here in the U.S. since the days of our illegal war via the Contras.) While there were no immediate reports of injury and damages seem to have been contained, nevertheless the 6.2 magnitude was more than enough to remind Nicaraguans that Mother Nature is indeed the boss when it comes to controlling our fates.
On Friday, a second quake shook the countryside, this one registering 6.6 in size. On the heels of the first shaking and some 350 aftershocks that followed it, the second tremor underscored the vulnerability that always exists in this region that has been so heavily subject to natural disasters.
There have been previous earthquakes in Nicaragua, of course. In fact, just in the past month 13 have been registered. But these larger quakes are the first ones to capture my attention as intensely as they have. The reasons for this are obvious to me, but they got me to thinking about how most of us tend to respond to news when it occurs so far away.
The reason for my rapt attention to this incident stems from the people I know in Nicaragua. The incident did not simply happen in a foreign land, but in the country where I work and visit with frequency. Thus, it happened to friends, colleagues and an array of acquaintances whom I admire and respect. The earthquakes in Nicaragua are a more intimate event because they have happened to people I know. When something happens to people I know, it is personal. I feel it. I sense that it is something that has happened to me, as well, and I am moved to express my reactions. I think we are all quick to share the news as well as our own opinions about events that strike close to us, to demonstrate the degree of our involvement and make ourselves more a part of the incident. (We all do this; it’s even why we so willingly share our stories about “where we were” on a date like 9-11.)
It’s easy for me to feel concern for people in Nicaragua this morning. I hope that Ligia is safe and looking out for others, as is her habit. I hope Rene and Edgar are able to return to their homes from wherever they have been holding audience. I think about Thelma and Gladis, Benito and Yaddir, Gloria and the women, Paz and Marisela. They are all people from whom I have learned and who have given me much.
But thinking of them gives me pause to consider others in Nicaragua whom I do not know, and the gifts they possess, and the worth they represent. I owe them no fewer good wishes than for the people I have come to meet through whatever serendipity brought us together. I am connected to these others; I may even meet them on a future trip. What happens to them is of equal importance as the fates of my friends. I’m just not as aware of it.
We are inextricably intertwined, every day, in every instance, in every outcome. We simply don’t acknowledge it. But as fellow inhabitants on this finite planet, we do share more than we admit. Our stories are more than just interesting or empathetic bits for the evening news. They are part of an immense linkage that binds us together. And as organizational development experts will attest, we are all reliant upon even the weakest link in any chain for no less than our very survival: I can never attain my maximum potential and well-being as long as those around me are unwell. (Here in the U.S., we have only to look at recent incidents of societal violence to illustrate the veracity of that statement.) Truly, the well-being of the entire planet is my well-being.
Perhaps fueling such feelings for all Nicaraguans would quickly extinguish whatever flames of passion and care I may feel. But that does not diminish the truth of our interdependence and what I must invest to achieve my own full humanity….