Responding to crisis

An academic and researcher in Canada, Aisha S. Ahmed has written about the response she has observed, the striving to find a new way of being productive, of establishing a new busy routine. I see people doing that and at the same time, in their new routines, coming as close to the borders of legal social movement as possible, denying the seriousness of what is happening.

Aisha writes “Yet as someone who has experience with crises around the world, what I see behind this scramble for productivity is a perilous assumption. The answer to the question everyone is asking — “When will this be over?” — is simple and obvious, yet terribly hard to accept. The answer is never.
Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your…productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.”

She has worked and lived under conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster in many places around the world. She has experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement. And in the midst of those lacks, she has been academically productive and she shares her thoughts in hopes that her experience may help others of us. She says there are 3 stages of staying sane and living through this well:

“Stage No. 1: Security
Your first few days and weeks in a crisis are crucial, and you should make ample room to allow for a mental adjustment. It is perfectly normal and appropriate to feel bad and lost during this initial transition. Consider it a good thing that you are not in denial, and that you are allowing yourself to work through the anxiety. No sane person feels good during a global disaster, so be grateful for the discomfort of your sanity. At this stage, I would focus on food, family, friends, and maybe fitness”, although don’t expect to become an Olympic athlete in the next 2 weeks!). She goes onto advise us not to try to do and achieve too much, but to focus on making sure we have what we need, that we are linked into family and friends with systems that work to keep us linked in, and that we have had those hard discussions we need to have in case of emergency.
These things of security are particularly important for key workers as those who are probably having to do the jobs of 2 of themselves at the moment and may well be in danger, depending on their work. Key workers, you need to figure out the next meal, the supporters who will care for you as you care for others and to have those difficult conversations more than any of us.
I would add to the list to secure our spiritual lives – review our devotional times, figure out how those will work in our new lives, take time with God and let him speak. Don’t make time with God about achieving something but make it time for him to be with you, make yourself present with him.

Stage 2: Mental Shift
Her second stage is that of allowing a mental shift. Life will not be normal as we knew it a month ago ever again. Yes one day we will go back to belong able to give someone a hug, sit and have coffee together face-to-face, to walk down a street without being conscious of our distance, hold a party or share a BBQ in our garden. Aisha says, “Now more than ever, we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience. Focus on real internal change. These human transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, beautiful, and divine. And they will be slower than [we] are used to. Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world. Because the world is our work. And so, may this tragedy tear down all our faulty assumptions and give us the courage of bold new ideas” This transformation means we need to see and understand only as much as we can at any given time. We need to let the reality of what is happening penetrate and move us, we need to let God’s heart become ours, we need to see with his eyes and understand with his wisdom, and we need to let him into our emotions and trust him with our despair, anger, hope and trust. Don’t run away from those emotions however hard they are. I don’t want us to all sit in maudlin, sentimental negativity or foster predictions of gloom or behave in fear-causing panic. But neither do I want to encourage us to take the long-established British way of a stiff upper lip! The tragedy of this virus is real and the emotions that come with that tragedy are to be allowed, but take them to God and grieve with him for others, for yourself, for ‘normal life’, for this world.

Stage 3: Embrace a new normal
Aisha tells us, “On the other side of this shift, your wonderful, creative, resilient brain will be waiting for you. When your foundations are strong, build a weekly schedule that prioritizes the security of your home team, and then carve out time blocks for different categories of [work and life]…
Things will start to feel more natural. [Life and] work will also make more sense, and you will be more comfortable about changing or undoing what is already in motion. New ideas will emerge that would not have come to mind had you stayed in denial. Continue to embrace your mental shift. Have faith in the process. Support your team.

Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised. Right now, work toward establishing your serenity, productivity, and wellness under sustained disaster conditions.

None of us knows how long this crisis will last. We all want our troops to be home before Christmas. The uncertainty is driving us all mad. Of course, there will be a day when the pandemic is over. We will hug our neighbors and our friends. We will return to our classrooms and coffee shops. Our borders will eventually reopen to freer movement. Our economies will one day recover from the forthcoming recessions.

Yet we are just at the beginning of that journey. For most people, our minds have not come to terms with the fact that the world has already changed. Some [of us] are feeling distracted and guilty for not being able to [do enough, do it well, do anything] properly. Others are using their time at home to [work] and report a burst of…productivity. All of that is noise — denial and delusion. And right now, denial only serves to delay the essential process of acceptance, which will allow us to reimagine ourselves in this new reality.

On the other side of this journey of acceptance are hope and resilience. We will know that we can do this, even if our struggles continue for years. We will be creative and responsive, and will find light in all the nooks and crannies. We will learn new recipes and make unusual friends. We will have projects we cannot imagine today, and will inspire [people] we have not yet met. And we will help each other. No matter what happens next, together, we will be blessed and ready to serve.” Let’s walk this journey with God, and keep our hope in him.

With thanks to Prof. Aisha S. Ahmad and ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education’.

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