Friday 10 April 2020

In crisis, opportunity

It was Winston Churchill who first said: "Never let a good crisis go to waste". I have been thinking about this as families, workplaces and communities worldwide have been thrown into an unprecedented situation, fraught with anxiety, grief and confusion. 
At work, my non-profit client is grappling with a precipitous revenue loss as their community programs shut down or scaled-down and uncertainty whether funders will continue to support them. Organizations I volunteer with also face myriad challenges, such as unpreparedness to transition to the virtual world, staff members falling sick or unable to be productive when saddled with caregiving responsibilities, etc.  
Finally, schools in my part of the world are shut until late August, leaving kids with patchy online learning tools and little direction on how to structure their day.
Taking a leaf from Churchill’s book, we have begun to introspect on how to make the most of this crisis (and the 6 months that my kids will stay home!). We are discovering that this pandemic has made some attributes even more critical and relevant now. 

Open & honest communication: Talking to the kids about what they have seen and felt, some of their observations hit the nail on the head. 
People panic easily (my daughter, learning of the long lines at grocery stores and stock outages).
The world is more connected than we realize and the economy is so fragile to buckle under in this situation. 
People don’t seem to listen to scientists and their advice.
I don’t understand why is it so difficult for schools here to teach online when we have been on Blackboard and Google Classroom for years.  
Aren’t we buying too many groceries? (my son managed to shame me into realizing we consume too much!)

We tend to let, even encourage, our children to live in a bubble that cocoons and protects. But talking to them candidly about what this crisis means, for us personally and for the world, is critical. We even talked through, very frankly, about the worst-case scenarios - my husband being laid off, having to pack up and leave the US, one of us falling sick and having to be hospitalized. Playing through these scenarios, far from being anxiety-inducing, has only equipped all of us to be more prepared for whatever the future may bring. 

Non-linear thinking: Talking about the daily developments offered us a chance to recognize and reinforce that the only constant is change. The world can and did change dramatically in a week or a few days as the disease grew exponentially. Everyone had to adjust very rapidly to a brand new normal (and is still adjusting). We spoke about how governments and policymakers have tough decisions to make in an uncertain volatile situation. How to reconcile what the epidemiologists were advising, to the economic and social impact of those decisions. Ergo, the importance of non-linear thinking. With 2 kids as alike as chalk and cheese; one, an ultra-logical being who thrives on structured thinking and evidence-based reasoning, and another who is messy, creative and thrives in ambiguous fluid situations, it was an important lesson even though we struggled to explain it in simple terms to my 11-year-old. 

Resilience: Drawing on inner reserves of strength to cope with the frustration and disappointment of a sudden school closure and all activities; spring break and a coveted holiday being cancelled; not being able to meet their friends in person; being confined to the house; losing the comfort of a daily routine; and no idea of when the ordeal would end, was and continues to be a lesson in resilience. Finding solutions to each of these problems, whether it is to chalk out a daily routine, use video chats to meet with friends, or move learning to Khan Academy, moved the kids from depression-mode to solution and action-mode. Also, there will never be a better time to start a daily yoga and meditation practice. We have been having a daily meditation practice for our kids for the last few months and I am sure it is helping to calm some fears and quell some anxiety. 
Circumstances may change, the only thing we have in control is our reaction to it. 

Gratitude and Compassion: Now, more than ever, it is important to be grateful for what we have - a safe home with lots of books and games, the ability to stay closeted inside and continue to work, the internet, etc etc. We are part of a small minority that still has these luxuries. We had lots of video chats with family and friends and felt more connected to those whom we had not been in touch for a long time. 
When work becomes visible, it can be shared. All of a sudden, the kids have had to pitch in and do laundry, load and unload the dishwasher, clean and put away the groceries, vacuum and mop the house and even clean their bathrooms. Helping each other has moved from being a nice-to-do to a must-do
Our daily family gratitude practice has focused heavily on all the things we take for granted, that many others in the world struggle to provide for themselves and their families. We spoke candidly about the possibility of the deaths, job losses, recession, and the current and future social impact on communities worldwide. When I wanted to donate to some NGOs that were helping the COVID-affected, I asked the kids if they would consider chipping in with some of their pocket money. Giving can never start too early! 

Authenticity: Our kids are watching us (yikes!) 24-7 now. No longer do we have the luxury to put on our "good parent" demeanour before they come back home. They see our annoyance, irritability and frustration. As tough as parenting usually is, it just became more difficult! But perhaps our vulnerability shining through is not such a bad thing. After all, this crisis has exposed as nothing else has, our collective vulnerability. It is bringing out the best and the worst in people. Life is messy. People are messy. This is the truth. Our kids will get it.

If we do one thing now, let’s challenge our kids to think differently, try to make sense of the world (even when we are ourselves befuddled!), be grateful and compassionate, strong and calm, agile and centred. This crisis won’t be the last one they live through, but it’s possible we help them pick up some vital tools to help them cope with a world that will never be the same again.