Irma: A Reminder of the Power of Compassion for Communicators

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I own a home in Florida near Sarasota.  The eye of Hurricane Irma passed right through Sarasota and within a mile or so of my home. I was not there, and most of my neighbors fled to higher ground before Irma came to visit.

To my great surprise, a few “intrepid” souls in our community stayed put and rode out the storm. They survived, thankfully, and did something very extraordinary almost immediately after Irma left.

They communicated. 

Their messages were not about them, how they fared or what they needed. Instead, their messages were informational for those who were not present and could not return.

They described what they could see. They reported the extent of the damage. They answered questions from frantic neighbors trying to determine if their homes were still standing. All this was possible thanks to well-charged cell phone batteries and the generosity of Verizon, offering free hotspots for all.

One by one, more people got back into the community. It was a very slow process, since officials were denying access to anyone who tried to enter. Very soon after these others arrived, they too began reaching out.

In this second wave, many of the messages were similar to this:

“If anyone gets in and needs food or water, we have some still.  Please stop by.”

“If you need power to recharge your phone, we have a generator.”

“Need a shower?  We have running water.”

This was human kindness and decency at its highest expression.  It was caring and compassionate and inspirational.  And it didn’t stop.  Others still outside the neighborhood began posting on Facebook messages such as this:

“We are coming.  Tell us what you need and we will bring it.”

Those of us in professional communications spend our lives thinking about messaging, nuance, and interpretation. We train spokespeople, practice speech delivery and presentation, target audiences.

Perhaps in the process, we lose touch with the genuine wonder and value of communication as a means for human interaction.

There is an inherent goodness and even brilliance in common language used for common good.

The instinct and ability to be selfless during crisis is not something we teach. It is, instead, a reflection of who we are, how we were raised, and how our faith compels us to act.

I will continue to “work” in communication. It will remain my career and the focus of my professional interest.

I will strive to remember, however, there is something far greater than messaging to consider.

Compassion is greatest. Kindness is powerful. And communication for others is ennobling and transcendent.

We might all gain as communicators if we hold on to these fundamental truths.

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