Crises confront us at every level in life – as individuals, groups, teams, organisations, nations, even the earth itself. In his book, upheaval, Jared Diamond notes that crisis, whether for individuals or collectives, arise either out of internal or external pressures. External pressures include loss of loved ones, threats of war, or the spread of disease. Internal pressures include sickness and internal strife and conflict (within a country or within a person, for example).
When crises emerge what is required, writes diamond, is selective change. It is not possible or desirable to initiate complete change. The challenge, in times of crises, is to assess what parts of the person or group are working well, and what parts are no longer working, and therefore need to be changed. Any entity under pressure must take stock of its abilities and values. What is still working well and is appropriate under the new circumstances and therefore should be retained? What needs to be discarded or replaced?
It takes courage to recognise what needs to be changed as we inherently cling to the familiar, particularly in times of danger. But something must be let go in order for something new to emerge. New solutions must be found in times of crisis – but those solutions must be compatible with the identity of the entity in question.
Diamond notes that the word crisis comes from the Greek word ‘Krisis’ and the verb ‘Krino’ which means ‘to separate’, ‘to decide’, ‘to draw a distinction’, and ‘turning point’. Moments of truth occur, says Diamond, where reality before and after that moment are very different, and very different from the before and after of most other moments. Crises are challenges. What are they challenging? They are challenging our abilities to develop new coping strategies, as the old ones no longer work. If new coping strategies are devised which fit the new situation well, the crisis has been negotiated successfully.
However, Diamond points out that success and failure are not as far apart as we might think. Some solutions are partial, they may work for a while, or the problem may come back again at a later date.
Diamond points to examples of sudden crises from history: The military takeover in chile on September 11th, 1973; The Tsunami in Sumatra on 26th December, 2004. Both of these occurred as an all of a sudden realisation. But many crises do not come out of the blue but are the result of a slow build up of evolutionary forces creating pressure that eventually comes to a head.
When we view macro crises through the lens of micro crises, Diamond writes, it can be easier to relate to them. Most of us have probably experienced a personal crisis to some degree or other. The dynamics of an individual crisis have a lot of overlap with larger, more global crises. They can offer a template or road map for how we can face collective challenge. People in crises often seek support from others; they model solutions on people who have thread the path before them; they also gain confidence from the successful negotiation of previous crises.
In personal crisis, the ability of the person to get through successfully, is in part down to the level of ‘ego strength’ they have available to them. Equally, a country’s ability to negotiate challenge is often down to the depth and solidity of national identity. The challenge in global change may be finding ways to create a global identity around which different parts of the world can rally.