Monday, September 05, 2005

Hurricane Tests Our Compassion

Below is something I wrote recently on another website in response to a lot of postings there that were critical of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Among other things, the writers were saying the victims in New Orleans should have known better and heeded advice to evacuate the city, that it was because of their poor behavior that relief supplies were not delivered in a more timely fashion and that they are being too dependent on the government to help them out.

There is undoubtedly some truth in those criticisms, but the mean tone behind the assessments disturbed me.

This is how I responded:

I get a little sad and disappointed when I see all the harsh-toned judgments being put against the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It seems to me the folks casting those harsh opinions have little or no idea of what it was like to be in the position of the victims.

How many of us have ever been residents of an entire city needing to be evacuated within hours? Do we have any idea of what it is like to be in that situation?

Yes, of course many of the victims made errors in judgment, errors that are much more obvious in retrospect, but that is usually the nature of tragedies. Many of those casting the harsh tones may get in a bind themselves one day for one reason or another and when that happens there will undoubtedly be some errors of judgment involved. Is that a good reason for onlookers to be less compassionate?

I'm not suggesting criminal activity should be tolerated or not treated strictly, but it can be addressed with compassion and without cruelty at the same time.

Fear is a great impediment to sound judgment and often leads to poor behavior. Can any of us comprehend the extent of fear that was unleashed by Hurricane Katrina and the unprecedented flooding afterward?

Imagine being herded with thousands of others into the Superdome at the government's recommendation, the doors shut, the lights go out and then in darkness the roar from outside gets louder and louder, the walls start shaking and pieces of the ceiling are sucked right through the roof and rain starts pouring in. And you are in that situation for hours. How quickly will you shake off that fear? And not even having food or water as a minimal amount of comfort.

Does anyone reading this, tucked safe in front of their computer screen have any comprehension? I believe it goes beyond the imagination of anyone not there.

It is common for onlookers of a tragedy to cast blame on the victims. I think it helps people feel more comfortable about not doing everything they can to help.

And you know what, this might offend some people, but I believe the world would be in better shape when compassion is not reserved for certain classes of people and can be shared among even those who make mistakes, even terrible mistakes.

Some who are reading this call themselves Christians. To me, being a Christian isn't about going to church or reciting verses of the Bible. it is about living life as Jesus Christ might have.

Would Jesus Christ be standing apart from the victims of this tragedy and listing all the things they did wrong and the reasons some of the victims don't deserve sympathy?

Perhaps it is us, who mercifully remain at a safe distance from the devastation, who are being tested in ways more gentle but just as significant as those in the middle of it.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Deciphering the Symbolism of Katrina

It's often instructive to view the world in terms of symbols, knowing there is truth to be deciphered in the symbolism in everything we experience in our lives.

Today I'm thinking about the disaster we are witnessing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the body count rises and help for victims is so slow in coming, and our leaders are so befuddled, it is becoming apparent that our country had much of the necessary information beforehand that, if we had paid attention to it, could have prevented much of the devastation and lost lives.

In other words, our country is not as strong and prepared to take care of itself as some of us imagined. The problems we are seeing were rooted long before Hurricane Katrina came to town. But our attention was somewhere else.

Our leaders have committed our country to spending thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in Iraq. With evidence showing that Iraq posed no military threat to our borders, it has become fashionable to justify our military presence in Iraq by stating that we are making that country a better place for the Iraqi people. (Never mind the monstrous irony that we are having to kill thousands of Iraqi civilians in the process.)

In essence, as a country, we are quick to find fault with others but do not apply that same scrutiny to ourselves.

Americans, both as a country, and as individuals, would do better to start casting their critical eyes within themselves, finding each and every imperfection and working to correct those before trying to fix the faults of others. To do otherwise is to leave oneself unbalanced and unprepared.

Before the hurricane New Orleans--with its good music, good food and good times--was considered to be a place where Americans could find our country's essence of soul. Now we know just how fragile that soul really is.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Loveless Words, Inflated Egos

People, including me, have written a lot of words trying to explain why other people's ideas about politics, religion or even sports need adjusting.

Conservative pundits are forever detailing why liberal politics is destroying our country and corrupting our morals; liberal pundits are never at a loss for words to explain how conservative policies create so much death, destruction and tyranny.

I doubt there has ever been a period in history when more words were spent giving opinions about why other people's opinions are faulty.

I've come to believe commentary of this type is mostly an exercise in ego inflation. Pundits strut and bellow with self-importance and those in their audience who agree with them feel momentary satisfaction having their own points of view mirrored back. Folks with opposing viewpoints also get an ego boost because others are taking their positions so seriously.

All this opinion jousting ends up being fruitless. Minds are seldom if ever changed in a meaningful way. Hawks don't become doves, environmetalists don't start calling global warming a myth perpetuated by liberal media. To my knowledge Rush Limbaugh has never convinced a Bill Clinton voter to become a George W. Bush supporter.

Transformation is not something that can be instigated through logic, clever debate or heated argument. Transformation is not a mind thing, it's a heart thing. And the catalyst is always love. Spouting opinions not fueled with love doesn't transform much of anything.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Driveways and Gateways to the Dunes (Blog Version)

(Author's note: I've decided to provide two versions of a posting. Immediately below is my streamlined, internet savvy "Blog Version" of "Driveways and Gateways to the Dunes." Further below is my longer old school newspaper style version.)

Oceano and Guadalupe are squabbling over who has more right to use the marketing slogan "Gateway to the Dunes."

Anyone who visits Oceano's Pier Avenue on a holiday weekend and witnesses the blocks-long parade of RV's, travel trailers, and hopped-up pick-ups and SUV's crawling past the ranger kiosk on the way to play in the great piles of sand to the south may agree that Oceano should consider a fresher, perhaps more accurate slogan:

"Oceano, Driveway to the Dunes".

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

There's Magic in Those Dunes

The towns of Oceano and Guadalupe have gotten into a tiff this week when it became widely known that Guadalupe decided recently to adopt the exact same city slogan that Oceano has employed for more than a decade: "Gateway to the Dunes."

It seems more people are discovering what a treasure the dunes of the Central Coast are. Our dunes are much more awesome and varied than a lot of people realize. Most people, it seems, think of the dunes as just giant, barren piles of sand primarily used as a big sandbox for playing with dune buggies and all-terrain-vehicles.

But the off-road vehicle portion of the dunes --where vegetation and animal life has been pretty much wiped out under the assault of spinning wheels--is no longer the most magical part of the dunes. Outside of the off road vehicle area there remains lush areas of vegetation, where you can find trees, wild flowers, animals, even areas of fresh water if you know where to look. There is definitely much to explore and enjoy out there.

Have you heard of the Dunites? That was the name locals gave to people who lived in the dunes in the early to mid -20th century. Artists, poets, philosophers and hermits were drawn to the area and for a while turned it into a bohemian community of sorts, a sandy, rent-free utopia where they lived in shacks and cabins and tents. Some even published their own nationally distributed magazine, The Dune Forum.

The story of the Dunites is one of the most fascinating, mostly neglected aspects of California history. It was nearly buried in the sands of time until Oceano resident Norm Hammond wrote his classic local history book The Dunites. You can find copies on I highly recommend this fascinating and charming book--it's great. After you read it, you will never think of our dunes the same way--I guarantee it.

And you'll gain a better understanding of why people are now arguing about what town gets to call itself "The Gateway to the Dunes."

David Ciaffardini

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Nobody "Reads" Blogs

I'll keep this short. Why? I may be wrong, but I think most viewers might scan but don't fully read postings if they are more than 200 words long.

There's so much to see on the internet that reading seems to take forever. Who has the time?

Some of us are having fun writing our great essays, but, quality not withstanding, I think very few people are reading them all the way through. And that goes for my work as well.

How many of the postings on this site have you read from beginning to end? Get my point?

Writing for a blog is not the same as writing for a newspaper or magazine. Writing 500- or even 300-word essays, I'm sorry to say, is hopelessly old school.

I'm guessing most of the folks posting on Central Coast News Mission are middle age or better. (Their postings sure make them look that way.) They grew up with newspapers and magazines and are writing in that style. But blogging is a significantly different medium and it's time for more of us to get hip to it.

Am I wrong? What do you think? I welcome your feedback--short or long.

Monday, August 22, 2005

All Over The Map

I'm all over the map. This blogging thing has really got me going. First I write about what a great place I'm living in, then before long I'm complaining about ugly architecture along the freeway. I write about not wanting to use this blog to complain and whine, soon I'm railing against "Conservative Bob." Then I write about Bill Benica, a friend with whom I find it "good sport" to find fault with.

Blogging for me is an experiment. And so far results indicate I feel more at peace keeping my words upbeat, seeing the cup half-full instead of half-empty. But it takes discipline to maintain that positive approach. Negativity strokes the ego. Negativity feeds the adrenaline addiction. Negativity is contagious.

Being negative is a way to gain attention. I'm more likely to get impassioned reader feedback if I go off on somebody or some thing. As they say, people love to watch a fight. And that creates the illusion that I am important, that I am doing something worthwhile. Seeing Dave Congalton absolutely blow a fuse and go on a cursing tear because of something I wrote (See comments for my posting "Unmask Irresponsible Commentator") gave me a moment of joy, it's sad to say. (Actually, more than a few moments.) But then I think, isn't that kind of sadistic?

I say I want peace in the world, but can I find peace in myself? Should I be using this blog to change the world, or change myself?

It strikes me that being at peace is as contagious as being negative; that transforming myself may not draw attention or ego strokes or adrenaline rushes, but it will be the most efficient way to transform my world; that being master of the blogging world, or master of the entire world is not nearly as crucial or ultimately satisfying as being master of myself.

It's lazy to spend my days looking out at my world, casting judgments, seeing problems, making mental notes of the things that aren't exactly the way I would like, thinking I'm actually doing something worthwhile by telling others how things ought to be.

Turning that gaze back at myself is a greater challenge.