Feeling powerless in the face of Japan's disaster

Although the media is constantly providing stories of people and countries facing extreme distress, the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threat in Japan has created more than the usual feelings of helplessness as I watch pictures of the disaster and read the daily news stories. I’m sure that many other postworksavvy readers experience similar emotions.

As someone who loves my home and the comfort of being surrounded by familiar belongings, it is difficult to imagine living in a shelter with nothing of my previous life available for solace.  I know that the hurricane Katrina survivors, the courageous people who faced the earthquakes in  Haiti or Chile, and the flood victims of Pakistan faced dislocations similar to those that the Japanese people now experience, but the pictures of the devastation in Japan, particularly those showing the human suffering have been gripping.  Although Japan is a wealthy industrialized nation with a highly developed disaster response system, the impact and scale of these recent events supercedes the best preparation. The restraint of the people is remarkable with no stories of  looting or hysteria — just a stoicism that is consistent with forebearance deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture.

The role of media in covering disasters

Media professionals are aware that stories of people in great distress boost numbers of readers/viewers.  By presenting a constant barrage of images  an emotional link between the suffering of those affected and the viewer/listener/reader is created.  Stories are designed to make people feel an emotional connection to the images.  Pictures of devastation grab attention.  Repetition is used to amplify the potential severity and build concern.  Human misery is exploited.  This exploitation saddens me and I look at the pictures of courageous people undergoing life-changing experiences.

I feel helpless in the face of the stories of a monumental human tragedy.

Family and Child Welfare Implications

I have seen only limited coverage of the situation that many children must be facing but am aware, from my past professional career that many children will need to be protected and kept safe while reunification efforts are made and family members are sought.  Many children will be displaced.  Some may be orphaned.  All will experience some degree of trauma — even if they are safe in the arms of family members.  Those children fortunate enough to be in the arms of their families will lose the structure and stability of home routines, will lose the predictability of classroom education, and will face unknown disruptions in their lives.  It is heart wrenching to think of both the physical and emotional injuries they have suffered and will continue to suffer.

Internationally, families who have relatives in Japan are left with many questions.  They search the internet for lists of survivors.  Those who have been able to establish contact are desperate to offer concrete help but are frustrated with water and food shortages.  They face constant worry over the threat of more severe nuclear explosions or greater damage to homes from aftershocks.

The desired response

The only response to cope with the feelings of powerlessness in the wake of such destruction is to develop  an understanding of the human side of the disaster.  Look at and read news stories to establish a sense of connection with the vulnerability of the people.  Unfortunately, the net result of the repetitious and dramatic media coverage may be that audiences get angry and tune out rather than helping out.  For the sake of the Japanese people, I hope this doesn’t happen because the human cost of this disaster is immense.

People, especially retired people, are ready to give back to the world as they often feel responsibility to the greater good and have the means to assist.  They are inclined to offer help often through a donation to a first responder organization such as World Vision or the Red Cross.  While giving money may sound trite, such support creates a connection between those who suffer suffer and the person making the donation.  Of course, the postworksavvy donor will need to do some homework and research the organization that is receiving the cash.

For those unable to give money, donating time as a volunteer is often a way of getting involved.  In the face of such immense need and great shortages of food and water, volunteers should only consider helping if they have needed technical expertise or previous international experience in disaster zones. Good karma through your thoughts and prayers is another option.


The act of helping generates a sense of solidarity with others and serves as an expression of our essential kindness to others.  It provides a social exchange that produces a collective connection.  The payback is that giving of yourself is a way of getting back and earning that important connection to the world.  The strong cultural value that urges us to consider that ‘we are our brother’s (sister’s) keeper’ shapes the civil society in which we live.

Thank you for reading this post.  I would appreciate hearing your comments about how the disaster in Japan has affected you.  Have you simply tuned out?  What have you done to ameliorate the feelings of helplessness? Did you respond with gratitude for the comfortable lifestyle you enjoy?

One Reply to “Feeling powerless in the face of Japan's disaster”

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