The word crisis brings to mind a dramatic, life-destroying situation. Yet hindsight reveals that the situations we fear most are precisely the situations that bring out the best in our minds and/or bodies. For example, an injured athlete outperforms his own expectations. Or surprisingly, the much-feared divorce that forces two people to come to terms with the past allows them to move forward into happiness with new dreams and lovers.
Is there a positive perspective from which we can choose to view dangerous and critical situations we encounter? Let’s rethink crisis.
This week’s journal topic: Crisis
The Chinese word for crisis is weiji (危机). The word a combination of two characters, said to be translatable as a combination of two words: danger + opportunity. This translation, widely cited in business, is not accurate. A more correct translation would be danger + crucial/incipient moment, with the latter character connotating “resourcefulness” and “machine”. Linguists assure us that Chinese speakers are just as alarmed by a crisis as English speakers are.
Regardless, perhaps the danger-opportunity mis-translation can provide useful insight into how we ought to deal with a crisis. Read on!
What exactly is a crisis?
When we say, “I’m not coming into work – I’ve got a [family] crisis,” what information are we trying to relay? In colloquial speech we might say that a crisis is a sudden coming to a head of a previously unknown problem. Additionally, a crisis is an occasion and not the norm, i.e., a temporary worsening of a situation. There is a great deal of uncertainty and the harm that might ensue is severe. A crisis threatens an irremediable outcome, an outcome that drastically changes long-term projections for the worse. Climate change – a crisis? The financial crash of 2009 – a crisis? An overdose of a loved one – a crisis?
Evolve or Die
Environmental crisis, medical crisis, financial crisis, political crisis, relationship crisis…
Regardless of the type of crisis, there’s always an inevitable result: change. A crisis results in the change of people, their relationships, and physical environments. And what’s the one thing that the human psyche generally resists? Answer: change. Most individuals avoid change until they are unable to resist it.
Because the change that results from a crisis is inevitable, ignoring or resisting it is not an effective way to psychologically deal with it. Consider the environmental crisis: either we must change or the Earth will be irreparably changed. Yet many of us carry on doing things that cause massive environmental damage: over-consuming food (especially beef) and over-consuming over-rated, over-packaged products. Our daily actions demonstrate resistance to change. As individuals, we resist the necessity of consuming less of what is harmful to the environment.
Even fighting a crisis is often ineffectual. In many cases of marital crisis, the distance between the partners has naturally grown so large that to fight for the sake of staying together is not an ideal solution. Marriage counselling can help people tolerate each other – but would you want to live with someone who cannot truly appreciate and adore you? When partners have each changed as individuals, so much that they are no longer the same people who tied the knot, then fighting against an imminent divorce is a questionable response.
If resisting, running, and fighting are iffy responses to a crisis, then what should an individual do when faced with a intense, dangerous and uncertain situation? Recall also that the correct translation of the Chinese word for crisis, weiji, is danger + crucial/incipient point, with indications of “resourcefulness” and “machine”. I think this gives us a clue about how an individual should respond to the threat of change:
A crisis is a crucial point at which we should honor “resourcefulness” and the principles behind machine-design, which are that a machine should provide a solution to a need that is as simple and elegant as possible.
Therefore, in response to a crisis we ought not to resist change, but instead
Evaluate the resources available to our situation, and
Look to create a solution
That is as elegant and simple as possible.
Sounds like we just turned a crisis into an opportunity to evolve! So whenever you find yourself facing a crucial point of danger and uncertainty, take stock of the opportunities within your mind and in your environment, and brainstorm some outcomes that require change and evolution of your skills. Then eliminate all the unnecessary actions and focus on performing the important ones well.
Turns out that mis-translation of the Chinese word for crisis, weiji, as danger + opportunity was quite appropriate.
- Have you ever gone through a crisis? Describe it in detail.
- Have you ever intervened in someone else’s crisis? Was the result good or bad?
- Have you witnessed someone acting in denial of a crisis, or running from it?
- If you had to deal with a personal crisis, such as a job loss or severe illness, how do you think you would emotionally respond?
- Can you identify the current major crises? (e.g. environmental, political, moral, health…)
- What is one major crisis that you can see as an opportunity for difficult, but positive change?
- How could you get others on board to recognize and personally respond to this crisis?
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Give yourself time to think and re-think. By doing so, you evolve your own thought processes! The journal is meant to help you develop a daily practice of positive self-reflection.
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