“The mind is its own place, and in itself,
can make a heaven of hell,
and a hell of heaven.”
– John Milton
Seen from the right perspective, crisis can be a time of renewal and opportunity. From issues such as bullying to environmental disasters, how we define what is happening to us makes all the difference in how it impacts our lives.
My personal times of crisis dealing with parents who experienced long illnesses with cancer and Alzheimer’s have brought me tremendous insight into areas I would have never expected. I decided to study how others dealt with the varied ways crisis can hit families to see if I was being overly optimistic or just plain crazy to handle my crises with such positivity. I found that I wasn’t alone at all in my approach. In fact there’s a whole industry around how to communicate productively during crisis.
Dr. Robert Ulmer, a professor of speech communication at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, says, “My goal in crisis communication research and practice is to help organizational leaders think and as a result communicate differently. In this essay, I argue that by viewing the positive during crisis, leaders can expand their communication choices to create renewal, transformation and opportunity.”
Ulmer goes on to say that the tension and tone in a time of crisis tends to stem from the threat the crisis poses. His approach may sound counter-intuitive, but he cites several examples: 2008 in the economic crisis, Ralph Emmanuel stated “you never want a good crisis to go to waste…it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.” Steve Jobs, after being fired from the company he created, stated that what followed was one of the most creative times in his life. He was then reinstated.
“What I have learned from organizational crises has taught me much about life,” Ulmer says. “Life ebbs and flows in relationships, careers, family and beyond. Change is constant. The ability to resist our natural inclinations and think positively during the storms of our lives is essential to expanding our communication choices.”
Hardship can not only offer renewal but build our capacity toward future resiliency if approached with a positive perspective.
As caregivers, we can be swallowed up, not by a single event, but by years of stress, grief and difficult decisions—many times with family discord complicating things further. What becomes critical is our orientation to this on-going threat. It’s not only about our health but the quality of our lives.
Ulmer says, “By changing the definition of a word, you also change what one sees and ultimately how one engages the event.”
In my research, I stumbled upon an interview highlighting that the two things all disasters have in common are emotional trauma and a renewed perspective in life. Caregiving is overlooked as an opportunity because of its enduring nature; it’s not a single catastrophic event. However, caregiving—as a catastrophic even—may last 10 to 15 years. It’s quiet and often goes unnoticed. But with over 10,000 of us turning 65 every day, caregiving is emerging as a common thread within the fabric of our lives.
We must redefine what caregiving means to us. This is our new normal. The potential tsunami awaiting us is not caregiving itself but the resistance to changing our perspective to see what gifts and opportunities caregiving has to offer.
Ulmer, R. (December 2011). Creating Opportunities and Renewal out of a Crisis. Communication Currents 6:(6). Accessed at https://www.natcom.org/CommCurrentsArticle.aspx?id=1962
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