Don’t Panic It’s An Emergency

by Evan on 2016/05/13

Usually, in an emergency, people behave well. They co-operate, focusing on what needs to be done.

And, contrary to views about inherent selfishness of people, they often behave altruistically – children are cared for, the sick are tended to and so on.

 

An Imagined Emergency
Which means that picturing ourselves in an emergency can be useful. Which leads to exercises like:
imagine your house is about to burn down and you can only grab five things, what five things do you grab?

Imagining an emergency can help us gain clarity. In an emergency our values and priorities emerge.

 

Normal Life?
But normal life is trickier. It doesn’t seem to be an emergency. In an emergency, what we need to do is immediately apparent – put on the oxygen mask which drops from the overhead panel, get out of the burning house, turn the wheel or brake, or whatever.

In normal life we often have lots of competing priorities, and our action may not have immediate results. In an emergency we don’t pay much attention to developing a diet and exercise routine. (Which can have consequences for those who work in emergency services.) In normal life we don’t have the same certainty about what needs to be done and what effect our behaviour will have. The timelines are longer, what we need to do is less clear, that our action will have useful results not as clear.

 

A ‘Safe Emergency’
Some psychotherapists have spoken of psychotherapy as a “safe emergency”. By which they mean that there is no threat to life, but the client feels intensely about deep issues – and occasional like their life is at stake.

I wouldn’t want this to be the main idea about therapy. I would rather it be an exploration of possibilities, an expansion of the repertoire of thinking, feeling and doing that someone has at their disposal. However, people usually go to therapy because of distress (often intense and long-standing) rather than because of a desire for more possibilities.

The usefulness of a ‘safe emergency’? It allows clarity around values and priorities to emerge. And often enough the steps to be taken immediately to implement these values and priorities become clear too.

 

Imagining Your Own Safe Emergency
You can of course design your own to fit your specific situation. Here are some ideas to get you started:
A fire has started in your house, you have the time to grab five things. Which things do you grab?
You can only be awake eight hours a day – what will you do during that time?
Your income is cut by half, starting tomorrow . . .
You have enough time to leave a worthwhile legacy – how much time do you need? What will you do with it?

 

A Real Emergency
We are making our planet uninhabitable for human life, at anything like our current level of comfort (at best).

The problem is that it isn’t obvious that our actions will make any difference to the situation. To which there are a couple of responses:

  • Join with others to make a big enough difference. The most global movement I know of is 350.org. There are many other groups, with focuses from the local to the global.
  • Doing what you can individually.  Which I think leads to things like:
    prioritising relationships – if you have to choose who to help people will choose those they have the strongest relationships with.
  • And having good communication.  Whatever happens decisions will have to be made, and information and decisions will need to be communicated.

 

At the moment, when I imagine these kinds of ‘safe emergencies’ or consider climate change, my values come down to hospitality and sustainability. Let me know yours in the comments.

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