On the Monday following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami I had a mercifully brief exchange with a guy who shops regularly at the Nanaimo music store I work at part-time. He's not really the brightest fellow, and did reveal once he was a crack addict for fourteen years, but I've always found him personable enough. On my bus that day, however, after saying good morning to me when boarding at his usual stop, our encounter unfolded like this:
"What about all that in Japan, eh?"
"Yes, it's awful, a terrible tragedy," said I.
"At least they've got the problems, and not us," he responded.
"Er, what? Eh?" I answered, incredulous, genuinely believing I had either spectacularly misheard him, or had entered some alternate universe moments before he said it.
"I really hope we (meaning Canada) don't send a bunch of money and troops and stuff, as they would never help us if it happened here," he said. Passengers then started to look around at him with frowns and genuine anger in their expressions, but no one spoke. He was oblivious, of course.
Beyond wishing to rid the world of this moron by lethal injection at that very moment, I hardly knew what to do or say in response. I blathered something about the world community always needing to rally around any nation in distress, then had to jump up to get off the bus and head for work. I couldn't stop thinking about his remarkable outburst all day.
Anyway, on a similar theme, the mighty satirical publication, The Onion, today included a quite fantastic piece in their weekly emailout that I simply had to share alongside my own personal episode:
EARTH—Following the recent earthquake and tsunami that tragically took the lives of an estimated 20,000 Japanese citizens, the planet Earth was afforded a good 15 minutes during which its inhabitants behaved like actual human beings, sources reported.
In the quarter-hour that followed news of the massive natural disaster obliterating entire towns and killing or injuring thousands of innocent men, women, and children, social scientists around the globe reported rare—and in many cases unprecedented—occurrences of individuals feeling genuine empathy for their fellow humans, recognizing the evanescence of life, and experiencing a deep sense of awe and humility toward the overwhelming power of nature.
After the 900 seconds had passed, however, this behavior reportedly ceased. "Though its duration was incredibly brief, in this span of time the entire human race was able to temporarily forget all its petty political interests, narcissism, greed, and ironic detachment for a few moments and behave like real people with compassion and respect," social scientist Dr. Robert Westbrook said of the short-lived burst of basic decency. "There is no evidence of any significant bickering, lying, preening, or self-involvement during this period. In fact, it appears that all 6.7 billion human beings simply stopped for one quarter of an hour, became filled with genuine emotion, and said, 'Oh, no, those poor people,' while keeping their baser instincts in check."
"That they instantly went back to being needy, solipsistic whiners does not change the fact that, for a fleeting moment, the world was a wholly humane and gentle place," Westbrook added.
According to experts, immediately after the 15 minutes were over, the vast majority of the Earth's people seemed to move on from the harrowing, incomprehensibly tragic event, and have spent the subsequent time attempting to get ahead in their careers, ignoring the plight of those desperately in need, thinking solely of themselves, and acting how they generally act at all times throughout their lives.
A sizable number of human beings around the planet were reportedly able to negate the sympathy and goodwill they had just exhibited toward Japan by moments later getting into an uninformed argument about the efficacy of nuclear power, making a crude Godzilla-related joke on their Twitter or Facebook page, or telling themselves they didn't even know these people so it wasn't really worth getting too upset about.
"In those 15 minutes, the thought of making light of the events in Japan did not even cross a single human being's mind, yet evidence shows this restraint expired sometime between the 15:00 and 15:01 mark, when certain segments of the population began to speculate that the disaster was somehow 'payback' for Pearl Harbor," said sociologist Karen Perkins, adding that within seconds deep heartache and grief quickly segued into trivial and barely related political debates. "By the 15:30 mark, millions had told themselves that the Japanese were a somewhat robotic and unemotional people who would recover just fine; by the 15:50 mark, 1.8 billion people were already thinking about lunch; and by the 16:15 mark, all but 0.8 percent of the world had moved on completely."
According to Perkins, the exceedingly rare occurrence of the human race simultaneously feeling a moment of tenderness and selfless concern for others only has a handful of modern precedents: Similar behavior occurred for 22 minutes following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, for six minutes following the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, and for slightly under four seconds after news first broke of the trapped Chilean miners last year.
Experts calculated that in order for everyone on Earth to act like a good person for 30 minutes, 1,000,000 human beings would have to die in a volcanic eruption or flood. For an hour of worldwide charity and altruism to take place, statistics suggested that an entire ethnic group would have to be genocidally murdered in a single afternoon on live television.
In order for people to be decent and caring for an entire day, there reportedly would have to be only 12 survivors left on the planet, though by the next morning they would likely begin arguing, slandering, and killing each other for resources.
"We should be encouraged by the fact that the world was able to come together like this at all," Perkins said. "Even though, in the end, it only lasted a few minutes longer than it takes for the average person to shower."
Still, a minority of scientists disagreed with the conclusions drawn by their colleagues. "Frankly, I reject this notion that it takes tragic events like [the earthquake] for the people of Earth to act like real human beings for once," MIT sociology professor Samuel Lark told reporters. "After all, most modern research suggests that acting like a callous, unfeeling, vain prick is exactly what being a human being is.