The meaning of crisis in Greek is judgment or selection. (This word was then appropriated by Hippocrates and Galen to mean the “decisive point in a disease that leads to either improvement or worsening.”)
So, the coronavirus crisis leads to a selection, in this case, one between people who are set to thrive and those who will suffer from the disruption and possibly sustain a loss, including potentially, of their life.
Today I wish to focus on the people who may (expectedly or unexpectedly) thrive during this time of great change in daily routines and expectations of the future. As mental health clinicians, I think it is important for us to understand the people who seem better-than-ever and to help guide patients onto a path of (at least partial) thriving.
Of course, we cannot remove the risk of illness or death, and that, of course, hangs as the backdrop to everything I present today. What I have to say is in addition to and not in replacement of this realization.
There are three groups of persons who may benefit from crisis. I dub them the Chaos-Chasers, the Eye-Openers, and the Opportunity-Takers.
When a terrible storm approaches, most people rush away, but an intrepid few rush right in. What is it that drives some people into the arms of chaos or danger or at least to embrace them? Among some people, there is either an explicit or latent desire to shed the burden of responsibilities, expectations, or relationships whose presence chafes and has accumulated over the years. Perhaps they didn’t know how to extricate themselves, to cause their own disruption. But now the disruption has come from the outside, out of the blue, as if heaven-sent.
Among some, there may be a desire to get to the core of one’s life, to face one’s ultimate concerns, to be freed of the superficial shiny objects of success that one has at times spent a lifetime chasing and curating. There is a desire to think, feel, act differently, perhaps even to be reborn, to be a different person. There is a longing to replace what is with what feels more true, something present but buried, to matter more, to increase the meaning and joy in one’s life. What is now no longer fits – if it ever did – and is stultifying, cluttering up one’s time and thoughts with things of small import.
Crisis and chaos can reveal what has been hidden or denied. But, of course, nothing is ever fully hidden or denied. It’s been there all along, making itself felt as a slow burn. So, when the world burns, the slow burn inside a person is now freed to join the worldly burn. That inner slow burn flames into a conflagration and can no longer be denied. The shadow self emerges. The dam breaks.
For some in this category, the rules of engagement and polite comportment change. It’s like the beginning days of war or the first chaotic days of peace, with ghostly stragglers emerging from rubble and black marketeers plying their trades. When the world burns, time changes. Every day can be the last, and every day can be the first of something new.
The worse things are, the more likely the person longing to be freed revels in it because the more likely that person is to be freed from their current constraints. The crisis acts as an accelerant in a chemical reaction, breaking chemical bonds, making a reaction more likely to occur, and hastening an already occurring one.
Eye-Openers are not throwing caution to the wind. They continue to play by the rules, doing their duty and meeting their responsibilities. But the crisis requires changes, some demanded by the higher-ups and some self-imposed in order to be able to meet those responsibilities. Currently, a common accommodation to the virus is minimizing face-to-face meetings. As a result, staff meetings are cancelled or held remotely. Patient contacts are minimized or held remotely.
As the crisis slows, Eye-Openers open their eyes. “Hey,” they say, “What we have now is better than what we had in the past!” If an Eye-Opener has direct control, they can continue in their new way. If someone else controls procedures, the Eye-Opener can resist returning to the old ways that now seem optional, cumbersome, inefficient, or ineffective.
Indeed, the world will not fully return to the old ways. Many companies (including us here at API) have teams working remotely. As the crisis passes and office-leases expire, I anticipate much of the office space in the world will become superfluous. And many clinicians will continue to work remotely in whole or in part. And even those clinicians who maintain or return to wholly face-to-face patient care, will now forever know that other approaches exist.
In this way too, the virus is an accelerant of trends that started and had nothing to do with the risk of the COVID-19 illness.
Individuals in this group live with their eyes open, moving through the world, waiting for opportunities such as this to occur. They understand that disruptions lead to losers and winners, and they plan on winning. For example, while many restaurants have closed for now (and many will stay closed forever), some restaurants are doing brisk business in newly expanded take-out services. As the threat escalated, these managers seemingly instantly had snappy ads touting their take-out menus and free deliveries. Another example: some investors have been holding back cash or moving into cash over the last year or two. They are now ready to pounce on the bargains the stock market offers.
Even when total demand for a person’s or company’s products or services during (and after) a crisis may be lower than before the crisis, it may be that a higher proportion of competitors go out of business. Thus, counterintuitively, the market share and total sales of the Opportunity-Takers can increase.
Tell me how you’re faring. Which category do you fall into? What other categories do you see?
Until next time,
“Lachesism: n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp…”
― Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
“Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?”
― John Milton 1634, Comus
“In chaos, there is fertility.”
― Anais Nin
“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”
― Ray Bradbury
“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas.”
― Terrence McKenna
“Persons in whom a crisis takes place pass the night preceding the paroxysm uncomfortably, but the succeeding night generally more comfortably.”