Unless you’re unnaturally optimistic, it’s hard to see any upside to natural disasters.

Whether it’s Hurricane Irma, now winding a path of destruction through the southeast, or Harvey, which wreaked havoc in Texas and Louisiana … or wildfires, mudslides, tornadoes, earthquakes, well, they’re all just tragic.

People are losing their lives, their property, their jobs, their peace of mind.

And yet, it’s impossible to recognize the horror without also acknowledging the kindness, courage, openness, and effort of thousands of people, even those far removed from the affected zones. People are pitching in, taking risks to help others, donating to charities, opening their homes.

This collective effort is worth reflection before we move on to the next phase of our lives, and, as we often do, forget what matters most.

Celebrating Friendships

I live in coastal South Carolina, beyond the heart of the danger zone. Unlike last October when Hurricane Matthew swept through Georgia and South Carolina, there was no mandatory evacuation for Irma in my area.

But plenty of people here erred on the side of caution, leaving in advance of the storm. So on Saturday night, some of my neighbors gathered for an impromptu hurricane party — not, in any way, to be irreverent, but to affirm the power of friendship, community, and cooperation in difficult times.

It was one of the best gatherings I’ve ever attended — not because of the food or drink, though both were memorable. It was notable because it engendered feelings of closeness, support, and confidence in the face of the unknown.

Somehow we all walked away understanding we’ll confidently weather this unpredictable weather, no matter what.

Smiles for Strangers

On Friday I made my way home from north Georgia, where I had gathered with my coworkers for Arke’s memorable annual retreat. The retreat deserves its own discussion, so I’ll save that for later.

But my point now is what it was like heading east on a day most travelers were rushing west. Most of the cars bore Florida plates. But you could also deduce the state of origin by the amount of personal possessions stuffed in each car.

At gas stations along the route, where travelers from both directions comingled, there were heartbreaking stories of loss and confusion. When I asked a child from south Florida where her family was going, she shrugged and said, “My mommy doesn’t know.”

She and her sister were the only ones in a family of six who spoke English. But everyone — mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather — willingly offered the next best things to a conversation: smiles in spite of their situation.

So did the man from Miami, pumping gas late Friday with his dog by his side. “I’ll probably lose everything I own, except for my dog and the stuff in the car. But I’ll get by,” he said. As we shook hands, he smiled. I want to believe he sensed what I know. Many, many people are poised to help him — and countless people like him — recover.

What We Lose, What We Find

In our losses, there are many things we can find. Whether it’s the loss of possessions, or, for lucky ones like me today, the loss of electricity (and internet service), “not having” creates opportunities to rethink and reassess.

And while these introspections are personal, they’re also applicable to the bigger picture. Whether you thinking about your own life or your business, it’s easy to see how paring back comforts and conveniences enables you to see what really matters.

It’s a good vision to carry forward, especially for those of us involved in the quest to improve customer experience. Think about it. When it’s all said and done, what really matters?

Do people care about the latest and greatest digital tools or the newest technologies?

Or do they really care about outcomes — that is, how an organization makes a difference in their lives?

Forging Human Connections

Obviously, whether it’s neighbors at a party or strangers at a gas station, people want empathy, compassion, understanding and the hope, if even unstated, of support when it’s needed.

If we walk away from Irma and all these other natural disasters understanding that even a little better, then we’ve found something positive among the chaos.

May everyone be safe today and in the days ahead — and know, collectively, we will get through all of this.

Noreen Seebacher is the content evangelist at Arke, where she researches, writes and continues her long career in news reporting as a brand journalist. Noreen lives in Beaufort, South Carolina with her husband, her dog and four formerly homeless cats.