Activity#1: If you have access to a dictionary, try looking up other words you relate with those mentioned by Solnit. You might look up “disaster,” for example. Or “accident” or “crisis”. Can you trace these words’ origins -- what words do they come from and what do those words mean? Take notes, or draw word trees (like a family tree) to connect a word to its root meanings. What other words are associated with the root words? Once you have a network of words and meanings, write out any new understandings you got from this process. Do these words mean what you thought they meant? Could they mean other things?
etymology: "unforeseen occurrence requiring immediate attention," 1630s, from Latin emergens, present participle of emergere "to rise out or up" (see emerge). Or from emerge + -ency. As an adjective by 1881. https://www.etymonline.com/word/emergency
What is the same word in other languages
Somali: xaalad deg deg ah
synonyms: accident, crunch, tension
antonyms: peace, benefit, blessing
Instead of catastrophe, I'm going to look at CRISIS and RISK
etymology: early 15c., crise, crisis, "decisive point in the progress of a disease," also "vitally important or decisive state of things, point at which change must come, for better or worse," from Latinized form of Greek krisis "turning point in a disease, that change which indicates recovery or death" (used as such by Hippocrates and Galen), literally "judgment, result of a trial, selection," from krinein "to separate, decide, judge," from PIE root *krei- "to sieve," thus "discriminate, distinguish."
Transferred non-medical sense is 1620s in English. A German term for "mid-life crisis" is Torschlusspanik, literally "shut-door-panic," fear of being on the wrong side of a closing gate. https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=crisis
What is the same word in other languages
synonyms: catastrophe, crunch, emergency
antonyms: peace, benefit, blessing
etymology: 1660s, risque, from French risque (16c.), from Italian risco, riscio (modern rischio), from riscare "run into danger," of uncertain origin. The Englished spelling first recorded 1728. Spanish riesgo and German Risiko are Italian loan-words. With run (v.) from 1660s. Risk aversion is recorded from 1942; risk factor from 1906; risk management from 1963; risk taker from 1892. https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=risk
What is the same word in other languages
synonyms: danger, opportunity, uncertainty
antonyms: safety, security, certainty
So how are these words related - and how are they different?
As part of my professional life, I've been indoctrinated to think about EMERGENCY and CRISIS as similar but different. There are fields of emergency management and crisis management, where EM tends to focus on how do we stop this bad thing from happening and CM focuses on how to best communicate our response to it - how do we let people know that we care about them.
Both have elements of immediacy, but I differentiate them in terms of size and time of duration. The emergency is of smaller size and smaller duration. There is also a perspective in emergency management about the different sizes of emergency response - something akin to "oops", "oh shit" and "OMG" in increasing levels of size. A haz mat release of a gallon is generally an "oops", of course, depending on exposure and a release of a train car or two can certainly be an OMG, especially if it impacts a drinking water supply.
The etymology of CRISIS above suggests that the CRISIS is the same as denoument in a story - that the peak has been reached and now we move forward into whatever the new normal will be. With COVID19, I think of it as a crisis because the level of response that has been and will be needed to address all the various aspects - focusingn on health care and econonmic - will require an immense response and a large number of people have been or will be impacted. And we will reach a peak, but it will not have the sense of immediacy that I associate with an EMERGENCY.
It should be noted that both EMERGENCY and CRISIS are backwards looking words. They are what is known in my business as "issues".
RISK, on the other hand, is intended to look at things with foresight - to anticipate what we might need to have in place - like masks, ventilators, online teaching - to make this type of whole sale impact on society a little easier. But we are humans and we don't plan well. And we forget the past, with our magical thinking that it won't happen to us.
There is also a perception that the chinese word for crisis carries the concept of opportunity. That is a notion that I have carried for many years and it turns out to be a false notion as supported by the analysis here: https://chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/936/does-%E5%8D%B1%E6%9C%BA-really-mean-both-crisis-and-opportunity
- yet another great example about how misunderstandings and assumptions can get carried for such a long period of time.
The reality is that RISK is the word that looks at both downside and upside. There are clearly many downsides to the fact that we failed to adquately recognize and prepare for this event as a country - some within our control and some outside of control. The fact that several people study the development of coronaviruses in animals and how they transfer to humans makes this a KNOWN risk and not a black swan. The upside is that we're going to learn how to do things different, better, faster.
The lessons learned from this event will have been learned at a very high price. We will need to think about how we become more resilient over the ages. And that does not necessarily mean that we will become resilient in the way that we most wish to see. There are several scenarios to consider and the Atlantic article referenced below has only 4 of them.
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/how-will-coronavirus-end/608719/. We're going to need more than groupthink to get us out of this situation.
Activity #2: Consider a time in your life when you’ve experienced what you would consider an “emergency”. Who was present with you? How did you react or respond, and how did others? What was the timescale of this emergency, and did people act differently at different points? Did you feel different at different points? As you think back on it now, what feelings come up for you? Would you say that this experience was “a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere”? What was -- or is -- new after this emergency?
There are a number of things that come to mind. I missed the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake by about 8 hours after crossing the Oakland bridge. I was in Berlin rather than NYC during the World Trade Center. I was in California during a huge explosion at a plant that I worked at at the time. I drove to Buffalo to be my father's hospice advocate during his final days of life. I just helped my mother go to the hospital for her heart attack, which was minor, thank goodness.
But if you ask me what the emergency that impacted me most directly, it would be a health event due to a drug reaction that caused me to be helicoptered from one hospital to another. Without going into detail, I know that I owe my life to my doctor, my husband, those who transferred me and the ER nurse who stayed by my side as he administered the drugs and treatment I needed while I threw up on the floor around him and then passed out. Before the helicopter ride, I had enough presence of mind to know that I might not make it so I called my parents to tell them I loved them and to let them know that my husband would be keeping them in the loop since they both lived in Buffalo at the time.
Truly, a lot of things don't seem very important when you're looking at the possibility of dying. And a lot more things do. I don't always remember that lesson as much as I should now that I'm out and about in the world again. Exercises like this remind me that I still have so much to be grateful for. I hope I don't need to have another lesson like that to remind me. And the reality is that I'm here until I'm not so I need to make sure I make the most of the time I have left here on earth. Especially since I have limited control over what that's going to look like.
Activity #3: Consider the current Covid-19 crisis. How has this worldwide crisis impacted you? Does it fit Solnit’s description of “emergency” and “catastrophe”? How has Covid-19 created “an upset of what was expected” for you personally, and for communities that you are connected to? If you imagine this catastrophe as a “plot twist”, then what happens next? What can you imagine?
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being really impacted, I feel as if it's about a 3 for me personnally. Mind you, if I speak in the language of risk, my likelihood is a 10 and my impact is a 3 - at least in the near term. The impact could change as the world starts to reengage and we feel the impact of all the lost businesses. I feel as if it's a 10 probability and a 10 for impact for the world. I haven't lost my job(s), none of my immediate family has succumbed to the virus yet, I continue to take and teach classes. I do not lack for food and shelter and my costs are reduced, since I'm not commuting or buying the periodic coffee. I'm still putting money aside for retirement, for house projects, for travel when we can go again.
It's true that my retirement accounts are not as robust as they were, but I look at this as an opportunity to invest. I wasn't planning to retire for at least another 2 to 5 years, so I don't feel as if the rug got pulled out from underneath my feet. I don't have children at home to educate so I don't feel that I'm torn between child care and work. My mother lives with us and she asks my husband if she has a computer question so that she doesn't bother me during "working hours". And if she experiences another health event, then that simply means that this was her time and we'll be able to celebrate a very long and giving life.
I do think about the long term consequences to the socioeconomic structure. I wonder what the world will look like for my grandchildren. I didn't have to move my class to online since I was already online. The infrastructure seems to be so much better than people were expecting back in 2010! I think about what are the new skills I should be developing now. I think about what could I bring into my class that would add value. This isn't like a fire that destroyed my house or someone in my family dying - that would feel like a 10 - where my foundation would be shook to its core. Rather, it took me a while to realize that I really was impacted. And some of that is because we were watching what was happening in China and trying to figure out when it would hit us and we prepared. But we only prepared as if it would be a two to four week outage. I didn't anticipate that it would hit the world as it did and I've read a number of the books about the Spanish Flu as well as other plagues across the world. The real impact for me was when my mother was hospitalized last weekend and I couldn't go in to see her. They tell me that I would have been allowed to go if it was an end of life experience, but I'm not sure I believe that, especially as they kept adding new rules along the way!
I know enough about risk communication and human nature to know that people are anxious because they don't have control. Not that they ever did, but they had the perception of control - going to sporting events, taking the kids to their hobbies and events, going to church, even routine shopping. People will feel better when they feel that they have some semblance of control back. But as long as government is telling us to shelter in place and suggesting that we all wear face coverings, then we don't really have control, do we!
And yet, I am hopeful. I felt much more impacted by the 2008 Great Recession due to a job loss and I managed to transition out of that event successfully. I know that there are a lot of people hurting and that we're doing something for them. Perhaps not as much as some countries, but perhaps more than others. It will be interesting to see how the collective thinking evolves after this event.
Consider our current context, with COVID-19 considered a worldwide emergency/catastrophe. What stories have you heard about this current emergency? Together, can you identify any themes and patterns? Are there stories that you haven’t heard yet, that you wish were available? Do you have stories to add / are your stories being reflected in the media coverage you have seen? What’s missing?
I think the stories we hear are the ones that we're listening for. If we're listening for fear, we will hear fear. If we're listening for hope, we will hear hope. In fact, maybe the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to not to listen to others at all, but to listen to what our own heart is telling us we need to hear. Others can't do that because they're saying what they need to hear. That is why storytelling is so important - it reminds us that our stories are important - at least to us. And this section is called "SEE" for a reason - as in See what you can create/hear in your world.
Here's what I want to See and Hear...
That our loved ones will be OK
That our country will be OK
That our major institutions supporting learning, health, family and friends will be OK
Things may be different, but they will be OK. We will successfuly manage the change that we need to manage.
What can I do with the extra time with family that I've been given now?
What projects that are on my list that I can work on, given that I have 2 hours back from not commuting each day?
Why did the US experience the COVID19 peak during the season of the Wood element, where spring is a time of tremendous energy, and excitement in the world and in our bodies. It's a time of change and growth. How will we use this energy?
To sit with the discomfort and determine what's next
To be more of an activist in climate change - fight for what I know to be right
To look for land in Maine and dream about building my cabin/complex there
To continue to find ways to write and create and to define my Masters project - how could COVID19 inform that?