Life lessons from the heart

RIC STEVENS
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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What have the past two years taught us? What lessons have people learnt from the turmoil which began with that first earthquake on September 4, 2010, and in the time since?

We all know what has happened, and institutions such as the Government, Cera, the Christchurch City Council, ECan, EQC and the insurance companies, the royal commission of inquiry and so on have provided us with a mass of information that is taking time to digest.

But what about the personal response? What lessons have Cantabrians taken into their own lives?

What better way, we thought, than to ask the people themselves.

To that end, The Press sent four students from the University of Canterbury's graduate journalism programme - Marty Bull, Sarah-Jane O'Connor, Sam Sherwood and Fiona Thomas - out with photographer John Kirk-Anderson to interview 100 people in Christchurch and Rangiora. The brief was simple: ask them to state in one or two sentences what personal lessons they had learnt.

Because our interviewers asked about personal lessons, not surprisingly there were few responses that dealt with politics or the city rebuild, or even the EQC.

Instead, more close-to-home themes emerged.

The first was to be prepared. Keep stocks of food and water on hand. Have a first-aid kit ready and a backup plan in case of emergency.

Another stressed the importance of family. A word cloud - generated by a computer program that analysed the responses and identified themes by enlarging repeated words - graphically presented a message in three words of roughly equal size: Family. Important. Always.

A third theme was related to that, perhaps - the need to keep lines of communication open so that we can talk to loved ones when we need to. Our interviewees repeatedly reduced that to a matter of modern practicality: keep your cellphone handy, charged and with plenty of credit.

Another theme was to live in the moment, to keep going, to realise that people mean more than possessions, and in the words of one interviewee, to "take life as it comes".

This wasn't a scientific study. It was just about asking fellow Cantabrians what real-life lessons they had learnt from this extraordinary time.

Take from it what you will.

And if nothing else, consider this encapsulation of two of our responses: nail the television set down and, if all hell breaks loose, hang on to the cats.

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- The Press

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