By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Berube, 102nd Intelligence Wing Chaplain
/ Published February 28, 2013
CRISIS -- Many years ago a publication called Pitch Weekly reported a high-speed train was en route from Paris, France, to Toulouse when the emergency stop system was engaged. An immediate investigation was undertaken to ascertain the cause for the alarm. As it turned out, an unidentified man had pulled one of the emergency handles after dropping his wallet into the toilet and getting his hand stuck while trying to retrieve it. What began as a simple crisis (dropping the wallet) grew into a bigger crisis for that man and everyone on the train. The emergency handle jammed, along with the man's arm, and the system couldn't be easily disengaged. The train was delayed until repairs could be made.
"Crisis" is a word we seem to hear on a regular basis. And it seems to be connected to everything from the federal budget, to foreign relations, to personal turmoil both great and small. Crisis seems to be a tag for every issue from serious international or domestic conflicts and personal tragedies, to dropping a wallet in the toilet and lip-synced public performances.
Now, one thing I have learned through training and experience is not to belittle anyone else's crisis. Crisis, like beauty, is to a great degree in the eye of the beholder, and there are real crisis points in much of our corporate and individual lives. Yet, we do need to be able to discern how much emotional energy we invest in a given crisis and it needs to be proportional to the impact of the event. If we give the same high-level energy to every crisis we will burn ourselves out. Some crises require major emotional and energy investments. Some don't. For example, if I'm counseling someone about serious financial, emotional, medical, or relational issues in their life I'm investing pretty heavily in that. I'm not investing much of anything into "lip-syncgate."
The big question, however, is how do I make the determination of how much to invest in a particular crisis? How do I know what amount of time, energy, and emotion is the right proportion for a given crisis that presents itself to me? Because not many choices are as clear as the example above we need a way to discern the most appropriate response.
When we teach suicide awareness and prevention, we teach the ACE model as a way to help us deal with someone we think might be suicidal. I believe that model can be used as one way to help us discern how to proceed in the crisis events we encounter.
Ask yourself a lot of questions about your impression of the crisis, the facts about it, and your potential to have an impact. Ask the person or people involved as well when it's a crisis that's close to your day-to-day life. For example - Is this crisis a matter of life and limb, literally or potentially? What can I bring to the person or situation that might help? Am I equipped to deal with this or do I need to find and encourage other supports?
As we talk about in the suicide awareness training, caring is a major piece of our interaction with other people. It is often one of the most impactful interventions we provide. Knowing someone cares when we are in crisis, and experiencing their caring actions, is a constant reminder we aren't alone. Caring in crisis is about empathizing - seeing the crisis through the eyes of the "beholder" as much as possible - and providing support to the best of our ability. That ability is a combination of skill and emotion, time, and energy.
Many of the crisis events we respond to (mostly the personal crises of friends, family, co-workers) resolve in time and we have adequate resources to be supportive until that resolution. There are times in some crises, however, when we reach the limit of our ability to be effective in our response. When we reach those points we need to follow the principle of escorting - getting the person engaged with other support (while maintaining a caring relationship), or giving a situation over to someone else or some other group that can build upon what we've done. This referral provides a chain of care that helps assure the crisis is managed with the greatest impact from the right resources at the right time. It also assures the people involved see and experience that high level of care.
As we learn to discern what is and isn't a crisis, and how to manage ourselves as we deal with crisis, we will take better care of the people around us. We'll also take better care of ourselves which, incidentally, can improve our own ability to cope with life and reduce our own times of crisis.