Saturday, April 23, 2011

Leave it to the Pros

I live in Maryland Heights, Missouri, which, if you've been watching the news you know was in the path of a tornado Friday night.  Our neighborhood is fine, but other nearby neighborhoods, such as the one surrounding my daughters' public elementary school, have seen tremendous devastation.  The American Red Cross set up a temporary shelter within walking distance of our house.

Naturally, we (or more specifically, my wife), wanted to see what we can do to help.  My wife even better bought some cases of water.  She went the Red Cross site to see what help they needed, and they just took her name and number down, and didn't even want the water.  The answer to "what can we do to help" seems to be to donate money to the American Red Cross.

I certainly understand the reasons for this.  If the Red Cross has sufficient trained professionals to do whatever work needs to be done, it's certainly better that the do the work than inexperienced  do-gooders like us.  They've dealt with situations like this before; we haven't.  Opening up those areas would probably draw at least as many gawkers as helpers.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why there weren't any fatalities or major injuries as a result of the storm.

Still, I have the feeling that we've lost something of the community coming together to address a problem.  And this applies to other domains besides disaster relief, such as education.  Our schools aren't run by the communities in which they're situated; they're run by professionals who may or not be otherwise engaged in the community.  If the school is failing, we don't come together as a community yo improve the schools; we get mad at the professionals we've hired to run the schools, and maybe even fire them and bring in a new set of professionals.

There is something deeply unsatisfying about addressing problems by sending money to a far away organization or set of professionals.  And I can't help but thing it's part of the reason why so many are somewhat disengaged from public life.

Obviously, the primary goal of things like disaster relief is effectiveness rather than ensuring that those wanting to help have a satisfying experience doing so.  But I wonder if we've gone a bit too far professionalizing some things that we should all be involved in.