After a crisis or disaster . . . do you "move on"? Get back to "business as usual"? "Return to normal"? Find your "new normal"?
As so many of us know, all of these terms are fraught with discomfort and unease. None of them are "right." All of these terms, in one way or another, can cause those of us who have survived severe loss great offense.
"There's no 'moving on,'" one woman told me this week. "And," she continued, "there's nothing normal in going forward. It's just before and after. What life was like before, and what life is like after."
This sentiment is especially key for organizational leaders to hear and keep in mind. How does your organization's mission take into account the large majority of people today who are living life with strong senses of "before" and "after"? How does your organization meet them where they are? Does your mission enhance life "after" what's happened?
At the Institute, we find those questions are some of the most important for a leader to consider. Because your answer means the difference between being connected or disconnected with your constituents, staff, students, congregation, or community. We also find that too many leaders erroneously believe that allowing members of their organization to grieve, mourn, lament, or even admit some sense of despair will cause further chaos or inhibit any movement forward. So, instead, they strive to return to usual routines and distract their people from negative feelings by focusing everyone's attention on positive momentum.
Unfortunately, complete denial of what's happened, or how it affects people, can lead some to eventual burnout, break downs, or needing to self-medicate through excessive food, substance abuse, or forms of self-harm.
It's tricky, though. For many organizations, it's not appropriate to manage how their people are dealing with loss personally.
To navigate these common challenges, in the aftermath of loss, we encourage leaders to help their people to become mindful of what is personal or may be inhibiting their work in some way. Rather than denying these things, we encourage leaders to identify local resources where their people may turn for support as they identify personal grievances. These may include local talk therapists, art or music therapists, spiritual directors, chaplains or clergy, physical trainers or somatic therapists, physicians, friends or fellowship groups – or any combination of caregivers. By encouraging your people to embrace the local "village of care" often you will find survivors resume interest in and ability to achieve your group's mission. Sometimes, you may also find your mission expands, in light of what's happened in the larger community.
How have you seen the "village of care" at work in your community? How have you seen it enhance your community's response to collective loss? Share in the comments below.
Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe serves as the Executive Director of ICTG. She is an organizational health consultant and pastoral psychotherapist. She lives with her family in Santa Barbara, CA.
From 2012-2021, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.