Living and Giving

What To Do in a Middle or High Crisis

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I recently read an intriguing article from Peter Bregman on the Harvard Business site, titled What To Do When You\’re Out of Control.  Peter shares his experience with a commercial airplane malfunction, when he observed, and what conclusions he was able to draw about how we respond to crises.  For me, this post prompted some thoughts about handling crises, and reminded me of an experience volunteering in El Salvador.  I commented with these thoughts on Peter\’s blog, and I\’d like to share them here as well:


Dear Peter, what a helpful article in so many areas of life.

There are \”middle\” crises of which you speak, where nothing happens but could have happened. And \”high crises\” where danger, chaos and desperation are occurring. In either case, a positive, proactive attitude and outlook can help contribute to a more positive outcome.  Even if the plane did go down, wouldn\’t one still want to be positive, wish others well, comfort the child?  I think that\’s a helpful lesson, in even in the most desperate of circumstances.

I remember volunteering in the earthquake crisis of El Salvador in 2002.  In the uppermost mountains, people were completely isolated. No food, no shelter. Constant rain. Volcanic fluid flowed into their water and streams. The fields were burned from over use and the soil tough, dry, cracked dirt.  World Food Program and Red Cross didn\’t have the time to go up these mountains, nor the resources.

We loaded up one truck. We had three people. We bought whatever water, rain sheltering materials and food we could.  In this case, it was powerbars, papayas, rice, random clothing, a few mattresses, tarps, bandaids.

It was what we had.

We arrived up a very steep and chunky hill, our tires almost getting caught in dried and muddy grooves of dirt, barely a road, as we bounced around from side to side.  Our greeting upon arrival was the most respected, formerly statuesque high tower and steeple of the church, toppled and in disarray at the \”door\” of the community.  It was disconcerting to say the least.

People huddled, starving, shivering, soaked through, under some unsheltering trees.  We outreached, we gave them what we had. We listened to their hearts and to their stories.  We made a small impact. We were impacted more.

What is poignant about these moments… we can always do something. We have our ears to listen, our hearts to care, our minds to think of solutions. There is always a way to impact, even in the final moments. It all counts.

It did to those few families. It did to us.  Most of the time — what we don\’t realize — is that we make a difference by simply caring, slowing, listening. It\’s not just the end result of \”I got food\” or \”I got off the plane safely.\” The lesson learned is one of presence, gratitude, and perhaps, taking life a bit more preciously and consciously, each day to day. 

I believe those middle and high crises are driving us to do this just this: Renew our daily perspective to one of greater contribution, thoughtfulness and gratitude.  That may well be one of our greatest investments in life, the investments of positive, constructive thoughts and caring.