Well, I’ve got news, it is not!
Think about all the cliches that people use when it comes to crises.
- “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” –John F. Kennedy
- “If you’re going through hell [crisis], keep going.” –Winston Churchill
- “When you face a crisis, you know who your true friends are.” –Magic Johnson, Hall of Fame NBA basketball player
- “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
Aren’t these little adages just an attempt to put a positive spin on something we do not like? It often boils down to a simple theme, and I know you know this to be true – The crisis you have to worry about most is the one you don’t see coming.
One of the lies that can creep in very easily is that a crisis is an opportunity. Crisis can be an opportunity, but it is not a given. When you and I do not take the time beforehand to prepare for crises- like organizations do not- the results of crises are most often not what we expected them to be or hoped for.
Have you ever heard of a thing called the refining process? In the past, to refine silver, a silversmith heated up silver ore to a liquid form in a process called smelting. This process burnt off impurities from the silver; when the silver cooled down, the silversmith would look at their reflection in the silver. If the reflection was not clear and pure, like a mirror, the silver would go back into the smelting pot and into the refiner’s fire. This process was repeated until the silver was so pure it perfectly reflected the face of the silversmith.
Refining our attitudes, beliefs, and connections is a similar process. We examine these to “burn-off” the negative ones and then look at ourselves to see the result. If we are not happy with what we see, we “burn-off” more. This is not about being a sadist or masochist– this process is vital for you and I to thrive. It is the impurities of our focus, relationships, beliefs, emotions, etc. that need to be purified to be able to grow forward through these crises.
This refining process improves our beliefs about ourselves and others. It allows us to change our understanding of a situation so that we can learn, even from a person who is always critical, without agreeing with their negative point of view. In short, this refining process is the thing which allows us to view crises as an opportunity.
Setbacks become opportunities to learn something about ourselves, our values, attitudes, beliefs, lifestyle, relationships, and other factors in our lives that change after these refining moments. These defining moments happen often and can include events like a job loss, our car getting hit in a parking lot, our partner telling us our relationship is over, red and blue lights in our rear-view mirror, a uniform at the door, your boss calling you into her/his office, a doctor calling and asking to meet with us immediately, and the list continues.
We often would refer to these sorts of moments as crises. In a modern context, we view crisis as synonymous with catastrophe, a disaster, or a predicament. The definition of crisis is, “A time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” However, I believe this definition is incredibly limiting.
The word crisis comes from the Greek krisis, which means “testing time” or a “contest.” I will use this word – spelled with a k instead of a c – to illustrate the positive attribute of crisis, because I think the word “crisis” has been given a bad reputation. Krisis means decision, not merely catastrophe or chaos. And what is wrong with making a decision? Life consists of challenging times – both small and big – that require decisions on a daily basis.
Krisis has some important defining characteristics. The first three are somewhat obvious and would fit into our usage of crisis today. These characteristics are that:
- The event is unexpected
- The event creates uncertainty
- The event is seen as a threat to important goals.
Nothing new there, right? It is the last characteristic of krisis that is different. Krisis requires change.
I love the way S.J. Venette argues this point: “…crisis is a process of transformation where the old system can no longer be maintained.” He later adds, “…if change is not needed, the event could more accurately be described as a failure.”
Krisis can be the catalyst for change. When change is required – and change itself can be a crisis for some – the lure of habits and the familiarity of the routine can often work against you and I. In the workplace, and with some personnel, krisis is the point where the excuses of “this is how we do it” or “this is how it’s always been done”’ will no longer work. It is that place where you and I discover that some of the things we thought were so important are not quite as important as we had believed. Additionally, things that we had not thought about are now values we want to honor growing forward. Like krisis, it is that pivotal moment where the organization, leadership, and personnel have to make a decision to grow forward or accept failure. Krisis is that point where you and I thrive or just try to survive.
I want to be honest here. I honestly feel sorry for those who have never had a significant crisis happen. I pray it is not a death or fatality you have to experience to learn this; however, krisis can be the catalyst for a season where we put first things first and where we know the importance of our values, even when others do not agree.
A krisis can be a terrible thing.
However, a krisis is also a terrible thing to waste.
It is not simply luck and courage that gets people through a krisis successfully. We need to be clear in our response because we need courage, passion, and ethos [mindset] to be able to thrive.
There are 2 truths I have learned in over 30+ years in crisis intervention that are paramount to know here;
- The event itself is never the real crisis.
- How leadership handles a crisis tilts the organization towards engagement and growth or towards poor health and self-protectiveness.
I will expand on Point #2 in different articles, but just to elaborate–
Think about a significant event in your own personal life. It does not need to be the death of a loved one, a diagnosis that you never wanted to hear, but something substantial for you.
Got the visual in mind?
Now think about the friends and peers you had after this event. When you thought about the relationships you had with peers and friends beforehand. Did you ever imagine that some of them would evaporate when you needed them? Maybe you never thought about the relationship and just took it as a given, or for granted.
In all my years of work in this niche, I have only met one person who had the same friends after a significant event that they had before. Job loss is the one that many get shocked by: when friends are suddenly busy, merely talk about the weather or sports games, and when they are together and will not go to a deeper level.
Without getting into a long story, the short version is that I learned this when I was asked to meet a friend for a coffee. The best part? I got to buy the coffee. And yes, that was the last time we have chatted, as that was not my definition of being supportive.
This circles back to my first point, which I have just been referencing. The event is never the real crisis.
That significant moment for you might not make another person’s radar. Think about job loss. For some of us, it’s as simple as, “Oh, great, here I go again.” For others, it is a huge wallop and the source of great anger, frustration, and even depression.
This is what is called the ‘hot water-tea bag effect or principle’. To find out what is important to a person or organization, put them in hot water. Just like a tea bag, what’s inside always leaks out.
To thrive through these seasons, there are two key principles you and I must develop.
First, reframe krisis from something to be feared or avoided to an opportunity to grow forward. It is a time to burn off some of the old ways that hinder you from thriving. It is true in any living thing that when we grow the old things may not ‘fit’ us anymore. This is true for lobsters, snakes, and even trees add another ring to their living. If you want to grow forward, krisis can be a catalyst to refine that focus and thrive.
Second, determine what you want to leak out in krisis or change. Make thriving, or at least resilience, about your values, not about goals or shoulds. If your values are at the center of everything you do, they’ll be the tea that seeps from the bag when you’re placed in hot water; in other words, your values will help guide you in the midst of krisis when they’re important to you.
In order to grow and change, we must first and foremost be prepared for krisis. It’s not a matter of if we will experience hardship, but a matter of when– it’s important to be prepared for these times to come. When these times do come, we must view krisis as an opportunity to grow and change, and in order to do so, we must be centered in our values and willing to change.