Earlier this week, I published a post on What to Do When the World is on Fire, followed by a video on YouTube, titled “When Everything is On Fire. As much as I want to recount the points I tried to make about dealing with a crisis, I want to share a different message here.
Maintaining Your Poise
The problem with a crisis is that when you are in it, it is all-consuming, this one especially. When there is a real and present danger, your attention and focus naturally go to the threat as a way to protect you from harm. The older primal parts of the brain take over, using your emotions to cause you to focus and act, rather than the relatively new parts of the brain, the elements capable of being logical and rational.
Your brain wasn’t designed initially for thinking; it was designed to keep you alive. You have more channels reaching up to your neocortex from your limbic system and your basal ganglia than channels from your neomammalian brain. Your brain doesn’t allow you to process threats; instead, it moves you to action.
The empty shelves in your supermarket are evidence of the emotional response to this crisis. When people fear scarcity, they respond by hoarding resources, even resources that are not necessary to their survival. When you eat from the table of mass media, you are fed a steady diet of fear, causing many people to panic, making matters even worse.
Which brings us to poise. The word poise means “keeping one’s composure.” It means maintaining control, grace, being courteous. It is possible to react to the danger without losing your poise, something that is going to be critical to successfully navigating this threat.
Be aware of what’s going on, but avoid spending all your time in front of a screen, creating more stress, a greater sense of foreboding, without improving your outcomes.
In many ways, we were unprepared for this health crisis. We responded too slowly, even though we were watching what was happening around the world. Our vulnerabilities were being broadcasted in realtime.
In other ways, we have been preparing for something like this for a long time. We have funneled money into startups who have already discovered ways to accelerate a vaccine for this Coronavirus, and two companies have already successfully created one, even though they still have to go through trials. Though there are tough times ahead, thanks to human intelligence and ingenuity, we are going to make it through to the other side, perhaps smarter and better prepared for the next challenge.
The most helpful perspective you might take is that we are going to get through this. Life is going to go on, even if our experience in some way changes us. Because this is true, your perspective has to include the future, what we do as the crisis wanes, as threat begins to dissipate.
Making Order Out of Chaos
From our very beginning as a species, we have a long history of carving order out of chaos. Our long struggle here has been to find or invent ways to tame nature, including our own. The story we have been writing has always been a great crisis, followed by a period of stability, followed by another significant period of turmoil and strife. Mostly, we improve from one crisis to the next, but sometimes, reality makes us repeat the lesson until we finally learn the lesson.
Like those who have come before us, you and I are going to need to pick up the pieces, rebuild, and reimpose a sense of order.
We need to retain as much of sense of normalcy as we can, including our daily routines, even if we have to make adjustments to protect each other from harm. You and I are both going to need to do the work of bringing things back under control, including helping others, going back to work, sending the kids back to school, and rebuilding our economy. And perhaps, if we are bold enough to image it, the improved civilization equipped to handle the crises we are sure to face in the future.
You should not take a real threat lightly. Nor should you lose your head and allow fear to paralyze you, preventing you from maintaining your poise and your perspective. The future needs you and me to do our part, like all of those who have faced the great challenges of the past. A large part of this will be restoring a sense of normalcy.