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Be Kind to First Responders: Heroes of Hurricane Sandy

Between 1996 and 1997, several groups from various countries came together to discuss the creation of World Kindness Day.

Groups from Japan, Singapore, Australia, England, and the United States, among others, hoped to designate a particular day where people around the world would be more compassionate to one another.  After several meetings through the years, World Kindness Day began on November 13, 2000.

The motivation behind the creation of this specific day is to show the people of the world that we are thinking of them. What I invite you to think about is to find ways to be kind to yourself and others not only on this day but every day. Be self-compassionate as that mindset will spur you to be compassionate to others – especially to those on the East Coast who were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

For first responders and professional helpers, World Kindness Day is a daily event.

These men and women dedicate every day to provide support to those who are traumatized, grieving, and facing life challenges. Although the Rolling Stones sing the song, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, first responders must be satisfied with what they can do. Satisfaction is the pleasure one gets from being gratified because their desire or needs are met. Although fire, police, and emergency personnel are responding to the scene up and down the east coast, they can feel frustrated by the traumatic incident and negative events and not being able to accomplish more.

Researcher, Mark Leary said, “Although Western society has emphasized the importance of high self-esteem, the more important thing may be to have self-compassion, the ability to treat oneself kindly in the face of failure, rejection, defeat and other negative events.” For those first responders who are frustrated and feeling ill equipped to get the job done due to Sandy’s fury, be kind to yourself. According to psychologist, Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion, you should extend kindness to yourself rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism when experiencing pain or failure.

Researcher, Beth Hudnall Stamm notes that satisfaction from helping is a potential protective factor against compassion fatigue. Charles Figley defines compassion fatigue as the tension and anxiety first responders feel when re-experiencing the individual or cumulative trauma of those they help. Compassion fatigue is when professional helpers are fully present with another person’s suffering, become overwhelmed, and too fatigued to practice self-care.

Research has shown that empathetic first responders can become vicariously traumatized because of the suffering they witness as they provide support. Their personalities are negatively transformed as graphic images of homes destroyed and lives lost change their world view.  First responders recognize firsthand what victims of the storm went through and indirectly experience those difficult feelings and thoughts.

From the extreme where almost 100 people lost their lives and hundreds of homes are totally destroyed to the inconvenience of not having power, Hurricane Sandy is stressful for both victims and first responders.

My mind can’t wrap itself around the fact that my friend has several neighbors living with her because their homes were washed away. It is hard to believe that a huge tree still rests against a neighbor’s house. My son’s car is out of gas and lines to refill are around the corner. My youngest son is having difficulty finding a local pharmacy to fill a prescription.

I am worried for those men and women who provide support and for the media who see firsthand the devastation as they interview overwhelmed victims. First responders are saving their own communities. Crisis counselors, chaplains, healthcare workers, police officers, fire fighters, employee assistance professionals are at risk for vicarious trauma as they do their empathetic role. It must be difficult for boat captains and crane operators who clean up after the disaster and canine disaster workers who search for those missing, among them, children.

My mother was born and raised on Staten Island. I grew up in New York and now live in New Jersey. This is the part of the country I call home. I am worried for my neighbors and friends who are coping the best way they can with a very difficult situation. I appreciate what local first responders are doing to provide support to families throughout the state. At a concert, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel thanked police officers, firefighters and government officials for their help.

I think we should ask three questions on a global, local and personal level:

  • Globally, what can the world do for these empathetic men and women who continually put themselves out there for others?
  • Locally, what can you do to let them know that they are appreciated, respected and loved?
  • Personally, what self-care strategies can they do to remain healthy as they help my distraught community?

Although November 13th is World Kindness Day, perhaps we can extend extra kindness to our first responders and let them know we appreciate what they are doing. For those families who lost so much, know that you are not alone. I, among many, are thinking of you and praying for you.


By Barbara Rubel, a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.