A friend of mine was working in the Christchurch CBD when a major earthquake struck in February 2011. One of her strongest memories is the behaviour of her fellow workmates and others in the area directly after the quake.
As the sound of emergency sirens filled the air, those around her were trying to get to their cars, determined to drive home and see if their houses was still standing. She remembers arguing loudly with a woman, telling her to stay put and leave the roads clear for emergency services.
The woman was desperate to get home, although her house was empty. My friend tried to reason with her, stating that people could die because if she and others blocked the roads with vehicles.
At that moment, the woman didn't care.
Responding to trauma
The human response to trauma can vary greatly. Straight after the earthquake, my friend could immediately and clearly recognise that, although she wanted to go check her house, doing it straight away could have serious consequences, and doing it now or later would really make no differenceâthe damage was done.
Many people around her were not processing the event so clearly.
What causes the different responses? Is it because my friend is a more logical person and perhaps her workmate more easily influenced by her emotions? Who knows?
Recently, I've wondered what my response would be.
Several weeks ago there was a large amount of flooding in the lower North Island of New Zealand. I happened to be on an army training exercise in the area when the flooding began, and we deployed to evacuate houses and maintain security and cordons.
Working under trying conditions in the pouring rain and darkness, we were tasked to evacuate a large number of homes in a few short hours before the riverbank broke.
You can't tell people that their homes are going under water. You don't have time for them to gather more than a few necessities. You can't save their dog, or their cat, or their favourite rug. Life quickly boils down to the basics.
The following day, running on no sleep and very little food, we experienced the underbelly of human behaviour in a civil defence emergency. People attempted to sneak around cordons to get into their homes, or just to have a 'sticky beak' at the river. People yelled, argued, cursed and even threw bottles.
All through that day, my eyes red and burning from lack of sleep, and frustration boiling just below the surface, I faced the selfishness of the human race. It was relief when darkness finally fell again that evening.
But for all those people who made the day difficult, there were others who made us pots of soup and muffins, and encouraged us. Those who thanked us for securing their homes against looters, and for wading through chest-deep water to carry out their grandmother, rather than complaining that the water was already that deep before we got there.
Those people made us feel valued. They made the soggy boots bearable, the thumping headaches manageable, and the two sleepless nights worth every tired blink.
Who am I?
What kind of person would I become if my home was destroyed? My possessions ruined? Under stress and trauma, would I think of others, or would I focus on myself?
I would always put others first in a traumatic situation. I would never put others at risk just to seek out my own interests. I would never abuse anyone trying to help me.
I lie to myself.
The biggest giveaway of who I would become in a traumatic situation, is who I am every day. It's how my family see me. How my friends, my workmates, and my husband see me. It's how I choose to react to the little things.
It really gives another perspective to Luke chapter 16, verse 10:
'Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much'.
Do I respond selfishly or unselfishly when faced with the little things?
The answer to that question is exactly how I'll respond to the big things.
Claire Debrois grew up in Feilding, NZ, and holds a communications degree in public relations from Massey University. She lives with her husband in Wellington and works in account management for a web design company. She enjoys keeping fit and active, and is a field engineer in the Army Reserves.
Claire Debrois' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/claire-debrois.html