Four Ways to Deal with a World Crisis

March 24, 2020


This is an intense moment. As I think back, there have been a few such moments over the years. The first world crisis I can recall as a child was in the late 70’s when my parents had to wait in a mile-long line to get gas during the energy and gas crisis. That was soon followed by the inflation of the early 80’s. Interest rates for a home mortgage got to north of 15%.

The day after Tamara and I were married, the LA Riots hit full stride. And as we left the LA Basin on our way to our honeymoon in Mammoth, we could see fires all over the valley, and the emergency responders racing from the furthest corners of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties on I-15 to help.

Then Hurricane Katrina in 2005 happened. I’ll never forget when we first saw the images on the news that showed the wreckage which far surpassed anything I had experienced from the Southern California earthquakes, which were an integral part of my childhood.

I can vividly recall the “Y2K” hysteria in the late 90s, and the fear that the world experienced which driven by the belief that on 1/1/2000 every single computer was going to lose its time-directionality causing total, world-wide pandemonium.

I remember getting a call from my friend and boss on the morning of 9/11 attacks when he told me to turn on the TV and “take a knee”. I watched in real-time as an airplane hit the second tower, as those two towers fell perilously to the ground and as the news of a third and fourth plane played out that morning.

I remember the “nuclear winter” that followed the dot-com implosion in 2001. The fires in LA, Orange County and San Diego, one of which blazed through my hometown of Yorba Linda, California. And more recently, I recall the housing crisis which led to the crash and bailouts in 2008, which was said to have been an economic disaster second only to the Great Recession which commenced at the market crash of 1929.

At the precipice of each of these moments, there was an opportunity to become extremely cynical and fearful. And yet, the economy, standards of living in the U.S., and the overall human condition have emerged to a better place every time.

Honestly, this moment doesn’t feel so much extraordinary as it does feel familiar to me.

Perhaps it’s one of the few benefits of having lived a few extra years. From where I sit, the strategies that helped me in each of those moments of crisis will be just as useful in securing peace and success in this moment.

1)   Keep Planting Seeds – We are superstitious creatures. It’s what makes us human…but it also can be the source of a lot of unhappiness. I cannot imagine living during WWII. But if I had, I imagine that it would’ve seemed to me that the world was truly coming to an end. But in retrospect, it would have been unwise to give in to a more fear and superstition-driven version of my faith. Doing so would have caused me to not invest in a long-term future in any way…to put all time and focus on maximizing some last moments of life. And yet, what a brilliant future of a billion opportunities this country and the world has since known.

2)   FEEL – In times like this, there can be intense anxiety, and there can even be (especially for us introverts) some moments of wonderful peace. Recognizing what we feel, and also give ourselves license to feel that way is critical in securing peace and architecting a meaningful future. I know this sounds crazy, I highly recommend watching the two Mr. Rogers movies that have come out in the last 18 months or so…the one with Tom Hanks and the brilliant documentary. Mr. Rogers was a man who understood that humans FEEL, that it’s ok to feel, and then we can choose how to act. There is something transcendent, seemingly easy, but difficult-to-remember about this idea. Embrace what you feel. Give it a name. Appreciate it. And then demonstrate your god-like gift to act in an informed but not pre-destined way. Altering the text slightly:

“What a piece of work is [humankind]! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like [the] god[s]!” (Original Text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Brackets denote my slight changes.)

3)   Faith/ Vision – Just hear me out…I have so many friends who do not share my faith and/ or do not believe in God. All good. Still, we humans are literally stuck in time. We cannot tangibly see the future. But we are endowed with the ability to envision the future…and some of us are pretty good at doing it with a relatively high level of predictability. To me (aside from my own belief in God) the key is to ask yourself what YOU believe about the grand future. What is YOUR vision? Is it packed with oppressive darkness, or is there opportunity and light? My advice here is that you NOT counsel the axioms of your religion or personal superstitions, that you stay away from arbitrary conversations with others, and for the love – stay away from news (but, DO leverage sources of information). Instead, look into your “heart of hearts”, your deepest personal belief about what God – or the Universe – intends. What do YOU intend? In my experience, that voice sees more opportunity and brightness of future than we can possibly imagine. Every single time I tap into that well-spring, it yields direction and peace.

4)   Help – We are also creatures that tend to be incredibly selfish. Although it is an important survival tool, it is also a weapon of internal destruction yielding anxiety and death inside of us. Finding ways to be helpful and compassionate toward others is a timelessly reliable way to find personal vision, energy, light and optimism. Last week a friend and co-worker, Nicole Davis, sacrificed precious vacation time helping to build homes for far less-fortunate humans in Mexico. A stunning selfless act in my opinion. From where I sit, Nicole has made a massive contribution towards making a better world. And I’m convinced that somehow she ironically benefits by increasing her capacity to be a satisfied soul. I asked her; “Does this kind of selflessness and service provide satisfaction where abject self-centeredness depletes it?” Her response? “It’s a huge opportunity to help. I’m delighted to see the impact and enjoy fresh burritos made from scratch!” Can you see what I’m saying?! What’s better than fresh burritos made from scratch?! The Universe gives back 10x!

Dennis Wood leads the human capital practice at Mercato Partners

You can reach him at dwood@mercatopartners.com


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