Crisis = Danger + Opportunity

By:  Marla Johns, M.S.President/CEO Crossroads Consulting 360, LLC



During the Cuban missile crisis, John F. Kennedy said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’  One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.  In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.”


While this is primarily true, in reality the second brush stroke has multiple meanings and not “opportunity” alone.  It is more said to be something similar to “change point” and is included as a part of the Chinese word for opportunity; according to Sinologist Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania.  In the United States, numerous politicians and public speakers have used this as a call to action.


While this is primarily true, in reality the second brush stroke has multiple meanings and not “opportunity” alone.  It is more said to be something similar to “change point” and is included as a part of the Chinese word for opportunity; according to Sinologist Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania.  In the United States, numerous politicians and public speakers have used this as a call to action.


Though I agree with, generally speaking, a call to action among those who provide and respond to crisis services; I see this more as a validation and affirmation of the guiding principles of CC360 and our RIGHT Program.  We need law enforcement because of the inherent danger associated with crisis work and those community members experiencing a behavioral health crisis.   Environments of crisis present an unpredictable and, at times, unsafe environment that makes response without our law enforcement partners impossible.


The bigger validation with this phrase really comes with finding opportunity, or the change point, in a crisis.  Those of us who work with human beings know just how hard finding that change point can be.  As a new graduate all those 25+ years ago, I just knew I was going to change the world  (it’s ok to roll your eyes here).  At the time, I was working in a downtown emergency department.  Day after day the same people would come through our doors.  Our “regulars” became an odd family in our work home.  We knew their stories.  We fought their demons along side them.  Yet, day after day, they would come.  I quicky lost that new grad spark in my eye, and wondered if a single life was ever going to be changed by the work I was doing.


As I sat in contemplation one evening at the end of a particularly rough shift, I was reckoning with the reality of the profession I had entered.  Maybe I was no good at it?  Maybe I wasn’t really helping anyone change anything?  I knew the local coffee shop was hiring, maybe I could make a difference there.  A curmudgeonly doctor that I worked with pulled up a stool for a little pep talk.  Now, you must know, his pep talks usually went something like this, “whatever, get over it.”  However, on this night, things were a little different.  Perhaps he too was feeling the pressure of the night; the heaviness of the work we do.  Perhaps the pep talk he was about to give was as much for himself as it was for me. 


As I shared the frustration of the revolving door for our clients, who “took me away” from other folks who had come in each evening and the needs they might have; he asked one simple question, “what about the ones you never see again?”  He then got up off his stool, grabbed another patient chart, and walked away.  At first, I thought I had just gotten another one of his stellar pep talks, then slowly the lightbulb flickered and came on.  He was right, what about the one’s who never came back?  Could it be that we actually make some kind of difference, that there was a change point for those folks?


The realization brought me through the next 20+ years of my career.  The reality is that the majority of the time, we never really know the change that we helped make in someone’s life.  The best we can do is assume that the lack of further interaction was the result of a positive impact.  It’s a bit like planting a garden.  Some seeds that are planted sprout almost immediately.  Some seeds you plant in the fall and do not see until the spring; but you have faith that the growth is happening.  You believe that the seed is changing under the soil, and you will see that change one day.  Maybe we are just gardeners planting seeds . . .


And what about those regulars who came to see us nearly every day, those people who became a part of our work family away from home?  Maybe the reality is really that they needed to belong to that family.  Maybe we were all they had.  For those people, it is possible that the change associated with the demons that kept them interacting with the medical and law enforcement environment each day were also the things that helped them to have human contact that they may not otherwise have.  The compassion, empathy and concern we provided might just have been the only times they felt the warmth of the human spirit.  For some, I know it was also one of the few times they felt the warmth of a bed, a blanket and a pillow.  Perhaps their lives were changing too.  Their seeds just took longer to grow and needed much more nurturing.


That curmudgeonly ER doctor has long sense retired; but I do think of him often, especially in moments of frustration, exhaustion, and the overwhelming need we encounter.  It helps me to remember we are doing the RIGHT thing and that our mission matters:  Creating the RIGHT response, at the RIGHT time, by the RIGHT people.

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