It's strange how quickly the image conjured up of a place can change so quickly for so many. If I'd used "Haiti" in the subject line two weeks ago, I'd guess most of you wouldn't quickly think of how it's the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Maybe you'd remember that they speak French or that it's on an island. But now... the very name of the country is synonymous with damage, destruction, and heartbreak for many Americans who have caught glimpses of stories on CNN, the radio, Twitter badges and ribbons, facebook statuses and even text messaging donation campaigns. But more than that, I think there are some important lessons worth examining in the middle of this... truthfully, maybe I'm just desperate to learn something from it all because, despite donating money, I feel helpless. Now that we have the technology to see what's happening, yet not the power to fix it, the whole thing is absolutely gut-wrenching.

Perhaps I'm getting overly cynical in my old age, but I was honestly surprised to see how many people, news networks, and media outlets were quickly aware of the situation and mobilizing aid efforts. Just because we have the technology to see the real-time destruction doesn't always mean people really know or understand the magnitude of what's going on (just look at Hurricane Katrina). But now, it seems that even my non-CNN-watching friends are texting money to donate to a cause they've actually heard about. And more than that, the number of people who want to help overwhelms me.

In my own state of near-frenzied helplessness, I went online to see if there was a way in which my French language skills could be put to use in some way. While it seems naive and I have yet to figure out a way in which my rudimentary language skills can facilitate any communication, I did see an enormous number of message boards with posts from others eager to help the cause. People were reaching out to anyone who would listen, promising a huge variety of skills - from driving heavy machinery to nursing and medical knowledge. The number of people willing to drop everything and be literally dropped into the middle of utter destruction and destitution, with seemingly little regard for their own lives here, was incredible (see one example in the comments on this message board). This is not to say that if given the chance every one of those persons would get on the plane to Haiti, but it is to say that we can all find a bit of hope in the idea that so many individuals are proactively searching out opportunities to aid those in need. It's not a bad opposite to Rush Limbaugh's remarks (I love this response on what it means to be a redneck, using these comments), right? It's also a refreshing reminder that just as Martin Seligman studied learned helplessness, he also showed us all learned optimism, and that we too are capable of more than just the evil confirmed in studies by Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment and Milgram's electric shock and obedience to authority studies.