The link between crisis and meaning

Hand selecting a key
Clare Gunning
Mon 13 Jan

Have you helped in a crisis? Maybe a friend or an organisation? It might be your job.

Helping is different to being in crisis – it isn’t your home burnt down, your face in the paper – but it might be you cooking meals or fielding calls, minimising the impact in some way. Throughout my career I’ve helped manage reputations and sometimes this has included crisis management. What always strikes me is how much positive energy surrounds responding to a crisis – the actual event may be devastating, but the capacity of people to mobilise, step up and contribute in a positive way is astounding.

Imagine if you could bottle this energy, and then use it in your everyday life. When helping to respond to a crisis, whether a bushfire, a personal loss, even a reputational crisis, there is a sense of purpose in everything you do. Cooking a meal is now about helping a friend, working furiously is emboldened with a sense of saving something.

In reality we can’t maintain momentum at crisis level day in, day out. Exhaustion sets in and today’s crisis becomes tomorrow’s normal. So a better question might be why do we find meaning when helping in a crisis, and how might we cultivate a similar sense of purpose in our everyday lives?

The fires have given me cause to reflect on this lately. Where does the meaning come from? I think it is something around the shift in our focus from getting to giving, from achieving to serving.

During a crisis, instead of chasing our personal goals we set these aside to be of service to others. Even in a professional capacity, when managing a crisis you put all your other projects on the back burner, you create time and space, you let go of hierarchy and petty turf wars and you turn instead to the person next to you and ask how can I help?

I wonder what would happen if we could bring more of an attitude of service into our normal lives. How might this change the meaning of our work and personal lives?

To test this out I’m starting a one month experiment where I will actively become more service orientated, and less ‘me’ centric. I will be interested to see whether this helps cultivate meaning, and what other unintended consequences arise. Of course I will report back, and you might like to give it a try as well. If you’re already a volunteer then you’re a role model of service and we are lucky to have you in our community.

Let’s celebrate service over goal orientation for a month and see what happens.