Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Earthquakes and Empathy

New Zealand has been in the gun from nature over the past few weeks. A Haiti-sized 7.1 earthquake struck the beautiful city of Christchurch at 4.30am a few Saturdays ago. Remarkably no one was killed though damage runs into the billions. By all accounts it was a terrifying event. And last weekend a ‘weather bomb” the size of Australia passed over the country dumping rain, snow and hail all over the place.

What has been remarkable about the Christchurch event is how calmly people have worked together, how local and central politicians under the leadership of Christchurch mayor Bob Parker and NZ Prime Minister John Key have come together to restore services and start rebuilding, how the utility and infrastructure companies and workers have methodically gone about making things happen. And on October 23 Dave Dobbyn, Opshop, the Exponents and many other musicians and artists will Band Together for a benefit concert for earthquake-affected Cantabrians.

I hope that all of New Zealand is opening their hearts and pockets to the Canterbury region. The probability of this is high if a recent international survey is anything to go by. The UK-based Charities Aid Foundation has just completed a study measuring which countries are most charitable. Sure enough, New Zealanders are the most likely people in the world to donate time and money to charity. They share the top spot with Australia. (The United States, incidentally, tied for fifth – a strong showing, to be sure).

The study ranked countries by the percentage of citizens who donated money, donated time, or helped a stranger within a month of the survey. So, what percentage of Kiwis lent a helping hand in the last month? A whopping 57 percent.

This bodes well for the recovery effort, and for the future of New Zealand as a whole. New Zealand is a good example of how compassion and generosity are building blocks of a strong society.