Standing in the sand in front of the collapsed building in Surfside

A tragedy rooted in an absence of self-respect.

Today I had cause to be on the beach in front of the building that has recently collapsed in Surfside.  In truth, I was there out of respect.  An acquaintance was amongst the dead.

The pointlessness of the tragedy amplifies its power.  The building itself looks as if it belongs in a war zone.  To either side, visions of luxury in gorgeous buildings, and here, a scar that looks straight out of a war-torn city.  The arrival of Israeli and Mexican rescue teams speak to this, both leaders in the tragic work of collapsed buildings.

And as I stood there and looked at the wreckage, I was puzzled by how preposterous to think that something like this could happen here.  Buildings collapse in countries with lots of corruption or poor building codes.  That should mean this could not happen here.

But as I felt the poignancy of how pointless the loss of life is here, I was also filled with a quiet rage.  We believe in our smug and arrogant social construct that we are better than other countries and other people where such occurrences are less rare.  But it isn’t true.  We are just as corrupt and venal as any society, perhaps more so, because we have the means to do better, and the values to know better.

As anyone involved in the building trade can attest, there is plenty of corruption in our planning processes, our inspection regimes, the blind eyes turned, the bungs given out as entertainment, and yes, even in the US, brown envelopes do change hands.  And as we learn more and more about what is unfolding and seek answer to the question WHY, what we find is that people cut corners.  Cutting corners is not innately malicious, but ultimately it shows a fundamental lack of respect.  It says—“I do not respect my role, my job, enough to do it properly, I do not respect the people who created the rules that I am meant to play by, and I do not respect the people whose well-being I am supposed to protect.”

And that to me is a small example of what is wrong with our society, not just in the US, but everywhere to varying degrees.  We are lost in a world which shows less and less respect.  Less respect for the “other”, less respect for strangers, less respect for the collective project that society is meant to represent.

Standing there in the rain, looking at this tragedy, I was overwhelmed by this very real example of what happens when we don’t respect ourselves enough to do our jobs properly, and when we don’t respect others enough to think it doesn’t matter.

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