Quicksand and crisis

Written by Jennifer Griggs

Quicksand is real.

Oh yes it is. While on vacation in March, my husband and I were determined to see birds that we don’t see in our home state of Michigan. Striking out early in the morning, we went to a boggy area in hopes of seeing water birds. We saw egrets and cormorants, which were elegant and intriguing but which are familiar to us from Michigan. To see more closing a little hopping bird I didn’t recognize, I stepped onto some cracked mud (I thought) and found myself rapidly sinking into what was sand, a sucking feeling pulling me down more quickly than I imagined possible. Although it didn’t look like quicksand in the Saturday morning cartoons I watched, it most certainly was quick–living sand. The blanched stumps around me broke off in my hand made brittle by being smothered in the same thick stuff around my knees.

In retrospect, I’m not sure how I was able to stay calm.

Steven found and brought over some robust and healthy wooden boards from some distance away and I was able to pull up one leg out and then the other, walking gingerly on the solid wood to firmer ground. Perhaps all those years of caring for patients in cardiac arrest in the intensive care unit or in the emergency room helped me maintain calm. Once on firm land, Steven told me that he had expected that I would end up crawling out of the sand on my stomach. I had just bought a new dress from the market in town and such a thought would most definitely not have crossed my mind.

The word “crisis” may have a meaning you didn’t expect.

The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word krinein, which means “to separate, decide, judge,” from PIE root *krei- “to sieve,” thus “discriminate, distinguish.” In a crisis, we have to make decisions that require discrimination and judgement…not discrimination or judgement against or of others…but of our own impulses.

Hard to imagine that any of us could engage in such cognitive work if we are in a state of panic. Yet we often think of crisis as a time of fast-paced, chaotic decision making with clamoring voices talking over one another.

Contrary to popular belief, the word crisis in Chinese is not a combination of the symbols for danger and opportunity.

Crisis may require the exact opposite–quiet, calm, and measured, thinking through choices and making decisions based on expected consequences. Crisis should not compel panic or hasty decision making. In fact, a crisis may call for creativity over haste and collaboration over lonely consternation. Seeking outside counsel can help us be creative and make the best decisions.

How about you?

How have you responded to unexpected event? Think about a change in strategy (or your budget) at work with little notice? Or health problems, few of which are expected. Or forced conflict or unexpected truths in your family–with your children or parents? How is it that we can respond to the unexpected? Can you slow down, find a friend who has the right tools (or intact wood) that you need, and let discernment, your inner and collective wisdom, help you out of a sucky situation?

Photo credit Tori Ferenc/Washington Post