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Letters to a Young Manager


The Parade, #454
LTYM > Crisis



Dear Sophie,
***
Having spent the last couple of decades in organizations whose missions serve vulnerable children and adults in disaster situations, I have seen some of the largest crises in the past 50 years. Though hard to fathom the magnitude of these shocks and how people survive and recover, it is the personal crises that bring it home.

In 1984, the US Summer Olympics team captured the attention of our country in a special way. One of the stars was the gymnast, Marylou Retton. She was the heroine for my youngest daughter, a budding gymnast who was eight at the time. I had arranged for her to come to my office near Broadway in downtown New York to see the ticker-tape parade honoring the athletes. We had a great location on the sidewalk, in the shade under some scaffolding for one of the old building renovations underway at the time. More enterprising observers had climbed up the scaffolding for a better view. We could hear their footsteps on the tin roofs above.

What happened next was a shock. As more and more people crowded above, the scaffolding could not bear the weight. As the New York Times reported "... what was meant to be an unalloyed celebration was frozen for a terrible half hour of panic and confusion when part of a sidewalk scaffold on lower Broadway collapsed, injuring about 100 spectators as they awaited the athletes."[1] We were slammed to the ground and could hear bodies hitting the collapsed roof above us. I strained to lift the panel above me, and told my daughter calmly to get out. I followed her and we sat on the opposite curb waiting for the emergency crews to arrive. We were not hurt.

She tugged on my sleeve and asked to go back to my office. "Are you sure?," I asked. "Do you want to stay and wait for the parade to begin?"
"No," she said, " I want to go.

A half hour later she was quietly typing on the computer keyboard, playing a game I had shown her.
"Are you OK?" I asked, giving her a hug. She nodded. "Do you want to go back?" She shook her head "no".

Years later, a counselor told me that by being calm, I had given her a way to survive the crisis. While bouncing back took time, she felt safe with me. I will never forget that.

This year, while studying resilience, I was taken by the role that improvising plays in crises. Some things you cannot plan for or train for. You have to make it up as you go. And you need to keep your wits about you. This is true for personal crises and crises in your organization, as it is for the international crises that make the evening news. Have faith that you and those around you will figure out a solution, as long as you remain open to it, calm and focused.
***
Sincerely yours,
Ed
________________________

[1] "TICKER TAPE AND CHEERS GREET OLYMPIC MEDALISTS," By DAVID W. DUNLAP, NY Times, Published: August 16, 1984, http://www.nytimes.com/1984/08/16/nyregion/ticker-tape-and-cheers-greet-olympic-medalists.html

Takeaways:

In the midst of a crisis, try to remain calm and improvise where you need to.

Discussion Questions:

1) What types of crisis have you or your family or friends been involved in?
2) Have you personal crises? What types?
3) What are your coping strategies? How have you stayed resilient?
4) How do you think ways of handling personal crises translate to international crises?

For Further Reading:





© Copyright 2005, 2020, E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved.


TICKER TAPE AND CHEERS GREET OLYMPIC MEDALISTS
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
NY Times, Published: August 16, 1984

http://www.nytimes.com/1984/08/16/nyregion/ticker-tape-and-cheers-greet-olympic-medalists.html
" But what was meant to be an unalloyed celebration was frozen for a terrible half hour of panic and confusion when part of a sidewalk scaffold on lower Broadway collapsed, injuring about 100 spectators as they awaited the athletes."

"Pure patriotism was not the only sentiment coming from the crowd. By their shouts and signs, it was clear that the first among equals in New York's affection was Mary Lou Retton, the winner of four individual medals - one gold - and a gold team medal in gymnastics."