Chileans face the effects of the earthquake with greater empathy

In spite of the destruction provoked by the earthquake of 27 February 2010, the catastrophe also reawakened the virtues of Chilean society, because, as some psychiatrists note, Chileans emerged from the earthquake experience displaying greater solidarity and resilience.

Effects of the earthquake
According to psychiatric specialists, this catastrophe generated a “before and after” in society

A policeman who alerted the inhabitants of the Iloca seaside town to run for the hills, and a paramedic who continued to help people just hours after losing his wife and daughter, are only some of the stories about heroes that came to light days after the mega-earthquake that affected the center-south area of the country on 27 February last.

Chile has always been known for its solidarity; this quality, however, takes on even greater strength at times of tragedy. According to psychiatric specialists, this catastrophe generated a “before and after” in society.

“We will never be the same after the earthquake, either as individuals or as a country. This will leave an imprint in our historic memory”, affirms Sergio González, a social psychologist from the Universidad de Santiago (USACH).

“What remains in the long run is that we finally see how vulnerable we are, i.e., that any successes we may achieve are based upon geological faults or social failures; and the fragility of our situation is clearly quite strong and powerful”, he states.

Although this scenario may seem dark for the country, it will also bring positive effects to Chilean society. “We will be a new generation, more empathetic and resilient, because it is evident that the continuity of our collective life has become breached”, adds González.

A similar opinion is shared by French neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, who came to Chile a week ago to lecture at the Seminar “Human resilience in natural catastrophes: earthquakes, tsunamis and others” at the Universidad Católica.

The specialist adds that those who are farther away from the catastrophe are more traumatized psychologically than those who are in the “heart” of the tragedy, because they feel more abandoned. He states that after difficult circumstances, people undergo a process of total restructuring.

It may happen, for example, that people will resume contact with others with whom they were angry or in conflict, because “before the catastrophe you had one type of life and after it you live life differently”, he says.

He also affirms that the new generations will play a fundamental role in this evolution and will tend to mature faster. They will “get to understand the natural disaster and feel proud of having survived a tsunami”, he states. “In general, Chilean culture will change”, he concludes.