Tag Archives: Haiti

Helping Hands: Sharing Among Survivors

Earlier this week the search for survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti ended. Current estimates suggest that upwards of 200,000 people may have perished, and efforts now turn to the approximately 3 million Haitians affected by the quake. They are in need of everything from medical care to housing, but most importantly food. Despite the outpouring of both monetary and other aid internationally, getting help to those in need has proven difficult. New York Times columnist Damien Cave highlighted Hatian’s struggle to find food in a recent article emphasizing that even in such dire circumstances sharing and fairness are held in high regard among survivors.  Stealing food is a capital offense and those who are able to find food no matter how much or how little are expected to share. Some have taken an even larger role in the recovery process setting up makeshift soup kitchens.

Some suggest that no act is every truly selfless since donors receive positive psychological benefits (e.g., boost in self-esteem, positive affect, etc.) among other possible rewards. Current research indicates that altruistic actions  are motivated by empathic concern intended to end the suffering of others as opposed to reducing negative arousal in the self (Stocks, Lishner, & Decker, 2009). Whether there are intrinsic or extrinsic benefits to helping others, survivors are showing that there is an alternative to the “every man for himself” attitude. Either by sharing what little they have or pooling their remaining resources to help as many as possible Haitians are embodying a community spirit in which altruism thrives. One can only hope that these efforts will continue and that much needed resources will reach those much in need.

Fighting Starvation, Haitians Share Portions

Altruism or psychological escape: Why does empathy promote prosocial behavior?

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Social order in Haiti

After early reports of post-earthquake chaos, news agencies are reporting instances of Haitians creating social order. The New York Times reported that starving Haitians are sharing their intermittent meals, as “new rules of hunger etiquette are emerging.” A portion of chicken, once appropriate for two people, might now be shared with 20.

This may be a sign of failings of the aid community, or of problems at the airport that prevent incoming planes, loaded with food, to land. But in any case, no matter how desperate they are, Haitians are following new unwritten rules about how to deal with their traumatic state, about how to get along with others who are equally desperate.

However disorderly Haiti may appear, Haitians are not in a state of chaos. Following the insights of Harold Garfinkel and ethnomethodology, Haitians are engaged in the everyday co-production of order, in this case including the collective but bottom-up process of dealing with being in a food crisis. There are no doubt myriad other examples of how life in Haiti, even now, continues to be orderly and functional. Now, if only the food would arrive.