This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on the ICTG blog.
As ICTG donors, volunteers, and staff, have researched and explored most effective pathways for healing and thriving beyond adversity, we have found one essential practice for getting "prepared": practicing how you want to be in an emergency. You can have all the flip charts, exit strategies, and "stop, drop, & roll" mantras you want, but if you are prone to freezing, dissociating, or freaking out, you (and your group) won't be able to follow your well-laid plans and procedures. While it is important for everyone to consider the type of person they hope to be in an emergency, it is especially key for leaders of schools, businesses, nonprofits, and congregations to consider. Their leadership largely determines how their group will proceed, and the essence of their leadership is contagious.
Here are a few tips for becoming the person you hope to be in an emergency. Take some time to answer the following the questions:
1. If an emergency, crisis, or disaster occurs, how do you see it best unfolding? For example, perhaps you hope your staff and constituents all have the information they need to make wise and quick choices. Or, your staff and constituents know and have access to the right contact person. Or, your staff and constituents know how to be in touch with one another and determine if everyone is out of harm's way.
2. As you consider emergencies, crises, or disasters in the past, in terms of your organization at that time, what do you wish had gone better? Were key people absent or unavailable? Was it hard to communicate with one another, and if so, why? Was there misinformation, rumors, or other forms of frustration that inhibited help and care from happening?
3. As you think of those past events, and what you wish may have gone better, recall your mind, body, and spirit in those hours and days. Become mindful of what you felt like. What did your muscles feel like? Were your thoughts racing or flowing with ease? Were you irritable? Irrational? Or easy to talk with? Did you feel nourished or fueled along the way, or did you find yourself realizing it had been hours since you had used a restroom, eaten, drank water, or slept?
4. Right now, today, how are you practicing care for your mind, body, and spirit? This practice is most helpful if you are honest with yourself. For example, try drawing a Venn diagram. On the left side, write out what practices you, personally, find help you make it through. Not necessarily the things you should or ought to do. But the things that actually make you feel better, even just a little bit. Then, on the right side list the things that contribute to your long term health. These may or may not be the same things. Whenever they are the same things, put those things in the middle overlapping section. You may find that the things that help you feel some relief during crises are not necessarily things that contribute to your health long term. You also may find the left side more empty than the right side. That's ok for right now. Right now, it's best to be honest and get your real practices out in front of you.
5. If you found that the left side of your Venn diagram is more empty than the right side, or you found that not much overlap exists between the left and right sides of your diagram, take some time now to consider one or two practices from the right side that you feel you could practice today. For example, here are some things that people often put on the right side that you may choose from:
These are just some of many examples of daily or weekly practices that contribute to a person's long term health. While not all, many of these practices can go on regardless of external circumstances and even during days of responding to crises or disasters. Many people find that continuing these practices through times of emergency help them to re-member themselves or the group to which they belong, especially after feeling temporarily fragmented.
6. In terms of leadership, what do you hope to model for your staff or constituents during times of emergency? If you hope to provide steady leadership that can withstand extreme pressures, what does that mean to you? What is the character of that leadership? What does it look like, specifically? Compare your answers to these questions to your answers to #2 and #3. Are there expressions of leadership that you can be practicing more today?
During the height of an emergency, people often draw upon their muscle and involuntary memories before having access to their rational training. That is why it can be most helpful to practice being the kind of person you hope to be in an emergency in, what we at ICTG refer to as, "times of peace." Those times when you are not "amped up," "clenched," "freaking out," or "stressed." Perhaps, you are in circumstances which feel constantly stressful and unending. In those cases, you may have to be more intentional about carving out space to begin practicing the care you hope to extend to yourself and those around you.
Your presence, as a leader, is contagious. We encourage you to take time to consider the presence you are offering to others, especially in times of upheaval. If you would like help doing so, please do not hesitate to reach out for more information. We'd be glad to hear from you.
Meanwhile, share your best tips in the comments below. What's worked well for you and your group?
Expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.