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disaster and the question of identity

Friday January 2, 2015

As we wind up 2014, a string of aviation disasters mar social conscience driving ever-increasing fears of travel and the world at large. From the shooting down of Malaysian passenger airline MH17, then the vanishing of its MH370 flight, to the most recent AirAsia QZ8501 mid-sea crash, 2014 was not a year for travellers in particular to remember. Naturally, the tragic loss of lives under such circumstances is a nightmare we can only hope to never experience. In the reality of such events, family and friends of the perished will now journey the waves of extreme grief compounded by shock and the tragic circumstances.


Through all of this though, I can’t help but sense a recurring sense of deeper humanity looking to show itself. Somewhere beyond the news coverage of haunting seascape loops and wailing mothers (which, taking nothing away from the sincerity of the emotions of those poor people), the commercial media, as always, seeks to pull at the heartstrings for ratings, viewership and the ensuing financial profit. As a by-product, this sensationalism machine plays a major role in instilling a wider culture of fear, then not so coincidentally, offers ceaseless materialistic remedy through advertised products dotting the news gaps from their corporate business buddies. Advertising slots filled during marathon disaster coverage will have many a brand manager grinning, with the unforeseen spike in highly emotional viewers, a gleeful bonus for their marketing agendas. The facts actually read that 2014 is one of the safest years in history for overall aviation fatalities with 761 deaths, compared to 2,429 in 1972 or 2,331 in 1986 (Source: Aviation Safety Network). But you wouldn’t guess that, glued to the endless doomsday reel coming from the news. Most of society it seems, cannot see beyond this televised, engineered fear mongering, and fall unwillingly into the perfect consumer mindset. “But these are real events that are happening in the world!” you might shriek. Setting aside the question of just how ‘real’ all of the various harrowing stories may be, there are in fact far more really real events in our own lives, everyday that are in fact directly relevant to our existence. Yet, the ‘news’ would have you believe that these instantly relevant facts are unimportant compared to their continual horror show presented in 16,777,216 colours in high definition widescreen from the safety of your cosy lounge room. Despite all this, I am looking to spotlight a more profound and recognisable humanity away from sensationalised distortion.


Within the extreme pain of sudden loss, the undeniable reflection of our own mortality and the ever-present dilemma of our very existence tolls starkly. Few would be willing to endure the deepest sense of vulnerability of such moments to look for any positive, and yet, it is through these disasters that the human modality almost exclusively returns to a clear sense of community, operating visibly through pure compassion and a certain kindness, albeit stained with tears of desperation. For a moment it seems, all the social-media and virtual technology which subjugates modern living may just be revealed for what is: a flimsy simulacra for real, physical unity of human beings with voiced words and direct eye-contact. These disasters have a way of automatically reducing the human experience to a basis of benevolent interaction with each other. What can this reveal about our deepest sense of identity then? As humans, we are programmed to switch into autopilot, often in the most challenging of times. Beyond survival and fight or flight responses, our emotional instincts, although perceived subjectively, are shared universally. I am speaking of what it means to be a human. Even the most hardened soldier for example, conditioned into a killing tool, will hold the well of emotions to an even greater degree in the realm of repression, mostly, just out of consciousness, and therefore will be subjected to the more damaging nature of their influences, stealthily operating from the tunnel network beneath their awareness. There is similarity in this type of grooming, as mentioned earlier in the ignorant consumer mentality, conditioned to buy in moments of unease and low self-esteem for instance.


Growing consciousness of our deepest inner mechanisms is not a plight walked lightly, but in doing so, pathways to healing and empowerment can result if the taxing navigation through the murk of our own shadows can be bared. To me, it makes sense that when suffering, the ideal opportunity presents itself to peer through the otherwise hardened casing of our ‘normal’ everyday selves — not to disconnect from negative emotions, but rather to immerse ourselves wholeheartedly in such unavoidable experiences for the sake of looking for the light switch, so to speak. I acknowledge that to do so, is initially counter-intuitive to most, where an aspect of our selves looks for protection against all types of pain, and the warm, but ultimately vanishing blanket of denial, can be so inviting an option. But you can teach yourself a great lesson from the willingness to observe yourself and the natural humanity that flows from others during such challenging times, and be reminded that ultimately, acceptance of our nature is the same thing as acceptance of each other and of life and all its obscurities.