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Jack and crises

A former boss, many years ago,  once banned the word “ crisis” in the office . 

In the odd way that a relationship with 35 years difference in ages can work , I was able to tease him about this . 

In his early 60s,  Jack  was a man of habit . Always in on the dot of 8.50,  coffee ( 2 sugars) at 10am , cheese  and pickle sandwich ( always) and his beloved pipe at lunch time , tea at 3pm and home by 5.30pm  

In a profession working with people,  avoiding crises was problematic, people just seem to create them, so  Jack’s request was a little unrealistic

Recognised as; insightful effective and  absolutely superb in his previous job Jack was an appalling manager,  a  fact that he was delighted to confirm to whoever asked. He was a hard man to sack because ironically he so badly didn’t want the job .

“ So why did you become a manager then, Jack ?” 

“ It just happened, it was Buggins Turn , then bloody Buggins went and died didn’t he? So there I was.” He said . “ I’m close to retirement, I  try to make as few decisions  as possible, they are usually wrong you see, so best do nothing. I find it wisest to stay in my office really. I don’t find challenges or change particularly helpful” 

 The Team ran itself as a kind of benevolent commune .

Had  he the foresight to put his philosophy on work-life  on paper, he may well have  gained a doctorate by  inventing the “ Do No Harm “ Principle. 

Supervision was a delight, a long rambling discussion with no advice or guidance given or expected, a social event . Many anecdotes from his life, reflections as he cradled his pipe , sitting comfortably in his cardigan, tie never totally tied , pushed back in his chair absentmindedly  tamping his tobacco with browned fingers, never lighting it until lunchtime. 

I eventually played him at his own game and invented   a policy paper on “ Non Crisis Management .” 

It had five levels of  UMC “ Unexpected Management Challenges .”

Level one required no action

level 4 – immediate risk to life required  Jack to give it really serious thought

Level 5  “ Jack’s  tobacco  pouch is empty “ required him breaking his rule and leaving his office .

He sent back a one word reply

‘ B*****d!”

I saw it as a particularly affectionate intervention on his behalf . We loved him . 

Of course people like Jack are not born like that , there are reasons . As the officer leading the first group of troops to relieve a concentration camp, one of the worst of its genre , still 30 years on Jack knew he would see grotesque and haunting images  every night when he closed his eyes . Whisky helped . Occasionally it happened during the day, if  we heard the sobs  in his office we knew to leave him alone . 

A good man, a kind man, but a man who didn’t need any more crises. 

Which I think is a shame, the world needs crises. 

A crisis clears the air ,there can be a new beginning. The notion that we can all go along swimmingly without them is naive. The world changes , we adapt. The idea that change is per se problematic tends to play down the problems that were there before it came to crisis.  Sometimes we need a crisis to make us see that . A crisis can be positive . 

Like many English words the word Crisis has a convoluted derivation; from the Latin which in turn borrowed it from the Greek verb  “Krino” which means “ discriminate,  judge or decide “ and the noun “Krites “ leads then to words like critic and criterion , a person who judges and the means through which we  are able to judge . Associated with this is the root meaning “krei” which means to sieve , and in other circumstances to distinguish or discriminate . Ascertain, discreet , hypocrisy, we can also see words in Welsh “ cruitr” or sieve  and in Middle Irish “crich” which means border . 

I like the notion of a crisis being a border where when you cross it the world is slightly different on the other side.

So the word crisis is less about a necessarily negative event and much more about reaching a point of change ( which Jack definitely wouldn’t have liked).  In disease management we would hear the word crisis used to define the decisive point in the progress of a disease or the point at which change must happen , for better or for worse. The point at a which a fever breaks. 

I guess then that your appreciation  or otherwise of a crisis reflects if you are a glass half full or half empty kind of person .Is your outlook optimistic or pessimistic? But what the word crisis implies is that there is a point at which you cannot avoid making a decision because accumulated  issues leading  up to it are such that the outcome of doing nothing is worse than doing something.

You can aim to control events or suffer being subject to them . 

In a medical crisis you would seek to intervene, you might not succeed but it would be completely unacceptable not to try. In a business crisis ,not responding to circumstances that are potentially business critical, could be catastrophic .  

Political crises are perhaps a little different . They are more about opinion usually than fact, the trouble in politics is that it is hard to establish facts in a post fact era. 

I sense that we have an impending political crisis post the Scottish election .You  may disagree .

The call for Independence is a crisis, Whatever your views on it are, whether you are pro or anti independence, we are approaching a point at which ignoring it is impossible. Just stating  “ another generation” will do nothing other than to incense independence supporters and put false hope into the minds of those who do not want this. 

I sense whether you approve of them or otherwise ,  the  Alba Party guarantees to add heat to an already hot topic. To assume differently  is unwise . When it is the raise d’être of Party to raise the temperature on an issue it is foolish to assume that they won’t do that. Of course there is a chance that if Alba  has  a very poor election result then  like other single issues parties (not that they would accept that description) they would disappear in to the ether . However it doesn’t need a successful political party to enable a political crisis- Brexit is a prime example of that . It just needs an agent of change.

I asked Jack once what he had against a decent crisis, given that once the judgement is done and the outcome is resolved then the consequent state becomes the new “ normal” and he liked normal.  

“ Vulnerability I suppose, you can control what you know what I can’t control makes me uncomfortable. A crisis is about what I can’t control.  ” 

The odd thing in the Independence debate is that the  notion of vulnerability applies to the motivation of both sides. One a vulnerability stemming from  being controlled   outwith Scotland the other a vulnerability born  from the unfamiliarity of a new nation and what that might do to familiar relationships . 

It is interesting that speaking of one side being divisive actually creates  more division, it doesn’t repair it. So automatically both sides are embracing division . You can only avoid division by seeking settlement . 

The word “ settlement “ is derived from the Old English “ setlan” to sit, it is also associated with the Old English “ saht”  or Norse satt” which means reconciliation . But, poignantly as a verb  it also is associated with settling land  or colonising. 

Language  is important,  dialogue more so. We can pretend the crisis  isn’t there but that is a bit like denying an illness, it is best dealt with whatever the outcome because that affects how we respond and cope with the rest of what we need to do. It frees the mind to do it, it removes barriers. 

If this crisis leads to a referendum what is critical is the  quality of the dialogue that takes place alongside that process. Whoever is successful has the responsibility for the care of both sides. 

But they need to understand, the language of  winning or losing does not achieve a  Settlement . 

Our current state is as false as Jack’s notion of normal because the pressures, the challenges are there even if we can’t see them or would prefer to ignore them .

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