Re-Imagining our Relationships with Natural Disasters

By the time I’m writing this blog, the Central Coast land of Vietnam- a place where I grew up and am currently living is starting to undergo a second wave of devastating floods in just 2 weeks. With all the unexpected deaths, it feels like a mass murder, to the people living here. There is great pain. There is deep grief. And this is on top of the 35 lives that were taken from my community, in just the month July, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [deep breath]

Right after the techno-pharmaceutical apparatus declared its supposed victory over the virus, another unwelcome stranger, called storm/flood, suddenly paid a visit to us. Ever since then, the amount of heartbreak is amplified on this tiny piece of Earth in Vietnam. Following the footstep of the storm, the series of heavy rains inundated the city causing flooding and making the nearby region almost unlivable. Some people needed to abandon their houses, some were cut off from food sources and livelihood and many people lost their family members.

A pregnant woman who was on her way to give birth to a new angel, was swept away by the ferocious torrent. 15 hydroelectric-dam-workers were buried under a thick layer of soil because of the landslides. A local army group, on their rescue mission to try and save those workers also couldn’t make their way home. A ton of vegetable gardens and plantations were destroyed by the cruel waters. Grief and pain is prevailing over local communities around. Up until 18th October, 64 human beings were killed and many are missing. Though floods and storms are frequent guests in this region, it is said that the water level and destruction reached its pinnacle in the past 20 years. Climate change is pressingly close to us and it feels more real than the abstract chart and measurements in the international newspapers. In these circumstances, hu(man)’s desire to control nature is still prevalent among modern citizens.

Nothing seems romantic about these events, yet I found a fascinating piece of information recently that gave me a sense of curiosity, and hope. Namely, I came across an important work of history written by the French voyager Jules Silvestre, who had lived and traveled around mainland Vietnam in the 18th century with the intention of documenting the customs, technology and religion of my ancestors.

The way the old Vietnamese dealt with the flood was staggering to me. From what I read, I can tell that my ancestors used to have a hospitable and enjoyable attitude towards floods (the thing that killed 64 members of my community. The things we consider to be monsters). Their attitude was aligned with their practice. They built with the flood. They built flexible houses so that would not restrict the flow of water, they even designed the houses so they could change the level of the house’s foundation if the water was getting too high (a modern concrete cannot perform such tricks). Every family had at least one canoe and every one (including women and children) were extremely skillful sailors (by the way, even nowadays, besides the grief and suffering, I and most of the kids here love the floods because we can play with water and catch a lot of delicious freshwater fishes.) And people in the past didn’t raise cattle and other Western livestock industries, therefore they had nothing to worry about in terms of livelihood or sources of sustenance getting destroyed by the floods.

Their actions probably began with the understanding that when the water, which flows from the upper mountain, brings tree trunks, leaves, animal carcasses, mud and organic matter etc. to the lower plains throughout Vietnam, the soil is fed with tons of nutrition and illuvium that is necessary for generating the optimal environment for plants and trees to grow. The flood, in this sense, seemingly has its own agency and intention. Nowadays, when the government tries to build many hydroelectric dams to control the flow of the water, and I think this is not a coincidence, the topsoil of the delta region is depleting with time.

So, what do we do with this information? What do we risk when we objectify natural “disaster” as a mere random consequence or alienated revenge of nature? What if the flood, the storms or climate change have their own intention and will? Then what does it desire to fulfill and serve the larger whole? What is the meaning of their existence to the Earth communities? What if the best “solution” is to participate in its on-going process instead of harnessing the wind and water according to our will? I have no definite answer to those questions, that’s why I want to embark on investigating them seriously. The convergence of the crises we are facing today requires us to use a different way for asking questions and relating to the world.

With the rise of industrialization and urbanization our communities have increasingly been designed with an EGOIC mindset, rather than an ECO-ic mindset.This framing was developed, and beautifully depicted by Steffen Lehmann, with EGO being a pyramid, with animals, trees, mushrooms, insects, etc. being the lower levels, a woman being in the second row below the top, and a man at the point. This was juxtaposed with depiction of the ECO-ic mindset that showed a circle with animals, trees, insects, man, woman etc. randomly dispersed, with no hierarchies or imposed power structures.

The other day I was having a conversation about the idea of Ubuntu, “I am because we are.” This seems to be much easier for people to grasp when dealing with other humans, but a bit more difficult extending this to the non-human environment, and our consumption patterns. Perhaps this is the reason why viruses and natural disasters are shocking our system? Do you think it might be time to start changing business as usual? And start to shift business from EGOIC, and driven by self-interest, to ECO-ic, and driven by the interest of the whole? Do you think it is time for us to start transitioning our ‘complicated’ systems into ‘complex’ systems? What would this look like? Buildings? Learning? Politics? Innovation?

Perhaps this shift could help us to prevent natural disasters and pandemics, the same way exercising and getting a good night’s sleep prevents us from getting sick? Perhaps this shift of perception [from Ego to Eco] could help us to more deeply accept, welcome, and learn from natural disasters, and the grief that comes with them? Perhaps this shift in perception could connect us more, with ourselves, and our surroundings? Perhaps this shift in perception could make us happier, and healthier?

And enable us to be, as we were born, to be.

Photo by Alistair Corden on Unsplash

Lead Author: Vũ Vũ

As a “someone is on his way to somewhere else”, I’m lingering in the territory of the unknown and getting generously lost in the river of life. The on-going quest for a proper channel for personal ambition has been bringing me to explore philosophy of science, sleight of hand magic, gift economy, compassionate communication and indigenous traditional worldview. My social life is expressed as a current coordinator and curator of an alternative education program The Soil Project and VCIL Community. I love talking with people in an authentic way and tend to try and avoid superficial stuff like writing my own bio.

Anchor Author: Dan Rudolph (last 3 paragraphs)

Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry. Daniel is a very curious and playful person and is always open for creative collaborations.



Can you imaging a more harmonious future?

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