Four Flaws of New Orleans… Revisited
Jesuit High School reopened 90 days after 80% of the city of New Orleans suffered catastrophic flooding in the wake of Katrina and the collapse of the floodwalls. The water was five feet deep inside Jesuit and the surrounding Mid-City neighborhood. When the second semester began on January 23, 2006, Fr. Anthony McGinn, S.J. ’66, president of the school, took the opportunity to address the 1,275 Blue Jays who were in the Traditions Courtyard. His timely and memorable remarks were subsequently published on the op-ed page of The Times-Picayune as well as in the special Katrina issue of Jaynotes (Summer 2006, page 30). Some of what Fr. McGinn wrote and said back in 2006 was touched on during his address to current Blue Jays at the Katrina Remembrance Assembly, held Friday, August 28, 2015 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the event. Below is the article that was published in 2006 under the headline…
Laid-back Town Needs an Attitude Adjustment
For decades New Orleans has suffered from attitudes that have contributed to the malaise that has kept it from prospering. After Katrina, New Orleans needs to rebuild its homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. But we also need a new way of thinking, an attitude adjustment, for a rebuilt New Orleans.
I told our reunited student body on the first day back at Jesuit High School that each of them had a special calling to contribute to rebuilding our great city. All New Orleanians are called upon to change. A great event such this hurricane should not leave us unchanged, especially in our attitudes. We can never solve our problems with the same level of thinking that got us here in the first place.
We need to change four fundamentally flawed attitudes that have permeated our city for generations. For too long we have been a city of lethargy, parochialism, self-indulgence, and self-pity. Every neighborhood, every economic and social class, and every sub-culture in New Orleans share these self-destructive attitudes.
Much of the charm of the city is attributable to its “laid back” demeanor, the sense of pride in our uniqueness, the good times we show our visitors, and our fascination with our past. Our problem is that reliance on charm can get us only so far. The unfortunate downside of this quality is a spirit of lethargy that permeates New Orleans culture. All segments of New Orleans suffer from a lack of achievement motivation and an exaggerated sense of entitlement.
For years we have decried the “brain drain” to other cities of the South. Even more significant is the “hustle drain,” the loss of talented and highly motivated young people to other cities. We have lost not only their intelligence but also their ambition and eagerness to make changes.
The downside of the pride in our unique city is our parochialism. For too long the charm of our culture has blinded us to the need to look outside of our city to see how and why other cities are successful. Our smug sense of superiority over bland Houston has not gotten us very far; in fact it has impeded our progress. New Orleans can only be enhanced when its young people return after experiencing other places.
The current situation also challenges us in the area of self-indulgence. Many tourists come to New Orleans for our food and drink, but too much food and drink make us lethargic and unmotivated. We need self-discipline to emerge from this devastation. The same addiction to comfort that makes us resist needed changes, keeps us uninvolved and passive, and content with mediocrity.
Our fascination with the good times and our laissez faire attitudes, especially at Mardi Gras, have led to an epidemic of underage drinking that will surely have grave consequences in our future.
Finally, we have a long history of self-pity in this city. Before the Civil War New Orleans was the nation’s second largest city, but we have declined ever since we started feeling sorry for ourselves when the city surrendered to Admiral Farragut and his federal troops in 1862.
Blaming others and refusing to take responsibility for our development led to our being surpassed, first by Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta, and then by Birmingham, Austin, and Memphis. How long will it take us to fall behind Gainesville, Pascagoula, and Macon?
Self-pity destroys confidence and ambition. The comfortable self-absolution from responsibility keeps us as individuals and as a city stuck in past.
Self-pity also debilitates. The rebuilding of New Orleans demands that we have a realistically optimistic attitude and confidence in our ability to do what is necessary to restore the greatness of our city. Focusing on what was lost makes it difficult for us to have the strength to do what is necessary to rebuild.
God has blessed New Orleans. He has blessed us with the gifts we need to come back strong. He has blessed us with the opportunity to make the changes that will restore that greatness. Let us remove from ourselves those attitudes that keep us helpless, focused on the past, and comfortably mediocre.
Before we condemn our elected leaders for their mistakes, let us look to ourselves, and change our thinking, our passivity, and our way of blaming.