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9/11 to Katrina: America's Resilience Shines

One human quality rises above all the devastation in hard times -- resilience.
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WebMD Feature

As the disaster of Katrina unfolds, Americans face other grim memories. This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

The world is full of tragedy, suffering, and despair. Yet amid it all, there is one common thread -- the resilience of the human spirit. How is it that human beings can endure so much without losing heart?

"Our human psyche has evolved to allow us to get through serious stressors in our lives," says Joseph Garbely, MD, a professor of psychiatry and internal medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "We're programmed innately to persevere. It is our innate survival instinct; that beacon that unconsciously drives us all. We want to leave our mark, leave our footprint on this earth. So we keep marching on."

Mobilizing America's Spirit

With the Sept. 11 tragedy, America's collective spirit began to take shape, Garbely tells WebMD. "That took us all by storm. We were all in shock and awe by what happened. Then as we digested it all, people rushed in to help. That prepared us, now we're more on the ready. I helped out with Sept. 11, and couldn't wait to see what I could do with Katrina. These catastrophes coming so close together almost prepare us for doing the right thing."

In fact, too many volunteers have turned out to help evacuees in Philadelphia, he reports. "We haven't had the big numbers that were expected. But volunteers have been turned away, there have been so many. Because Sept. 11 is still so palpable, people are ready to pitch in."

What he's witnessed "has been dazzling," Garbely tells WebMD. "We pull each other up. We're driven to help each other, which brings us together. We may be divided on some issues, but when disaster occurs, all that goes away. Our common goal, our similarity, is to pick ourselves up, bond, put aside our differences, for the common good."

The Power of Faith

In times of distress, "faith is a motivator," says Garbely. "Faith gives people hope. Even by just showing up as a volunteer, you confer instant hope. People in crisis have no idea what they're going to do next. They just want someone to say it's going to be OK. They want a bed, they want someone to take care of their medical problems, take care of their mom. It gives people hope. That's the key ingredient that the collective spirit gives to people: hope. Not just hope in their problem, but also hope in mankind."

Faith in a higher power -- however we envision that power -- helps us believe there is order to the universe, he explains. Also, a sense of faith and spirituality prompts people to do what is morally right, says Garbely. "I think spirituality is about doing the right thing. You don't need organized religion to have that call -- although organized religion can help people get involved. If you're one person, it's maybe not so easy."

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