Today’s DP Challenge – Honestly evaluate the way you respond to a crisis situation. Are you happy with the way you react? This challenge really got me thinking!
The answer, in a word is – no!
Let me tell you a little story – because that’s what I do.
A few years ago my husband Bruce and I were visiting my dad and stepmom at their lovely home in Osoyoos, BC. It was the Canada Day long weekend.
Canada Day dawned as warm and beautiful as you would expect a July day in Osoyoos to be. We decided to walk down to the community park by the lake to enjoy the festivities – open stalls of people selling this and that, live music, brave souls being tugged up into the air clutching to the ropes of large, colourful, kite-like sails to paraglide over the lake – the motor boats used to get them airborne zooming loudly away from the shore, local colour in the form of a huge, yellow, floating banana, loaded down with screaming swimmers as it whipped around out in the waves of Osoyoos Lake, and of course – the massive Canada Day cake to be shared out amongst the crowd.
Chairs were set up in front of the band shell and the cake was clearly visible on a table nearby. Bruce and I had been milling around enjoying ourselves – we sat down for a couple of minutes to listen to the opening number from a local band. As the song was winding down, I could see the mayor and an assortment of local dignitaries getting ready to start cutting the cake. I stood up and gestured for Bruce to follow me – I wanted to position us a bit closer to the front for when they started handing out slices.
We had just left our chairs and were moving forward when pandemonium broke out. A very large motor home came down the small hill from the parking lot above, out of control, pushing a motorcycle and car in front of it. This mad train of vehicles whammed through the stalls and the crowd, passing right by us and crashing over the chairs we had just moments before been sitting in.
I froze where I was standing. It was only later when I replayed the scene that had unfolded before my eyes that I realized other people reacted quite differently. Bruce moved so quickly that he was able to catch a woman who had been sent flying – blood pouring down her face from where her shattered glasses had embedded themselves in her skin – before she even hit the ground. I stood completely frozen while the motor home continued its path of destruction, knocking several more people over like match sticks and pulling down a few stalls. It ground to a halt quite suddenly against a tree at the edge of the slope of grass that led down to the lake. I was still frozen in place when Bruce returned to my side – other more qualified first aiders had rushed to assist the woman he had caught.
I wonder to this day – would I have stood that frozen in place if the motor home had been bearing right down on me?
We never found out what caused the motor home to crash through the crowd. Several people were injured, a couple of people seriously so – but no one died.
So – there you have it – in the event of a crisis people have a few choices – fight, flight or freeze. Given the nature of the crisis, any one of these three options could have their own merits. The problem is being locked into one response regardless of circumstances.
The whole experience certainly left me wondering about my value (or lack of) in a crisis situation. This daily post has given me an opportunity to revisit these wonderings and I am no closer to any answers. But I certainly enjoyed perusing the photos we have of Osoyoos and remembering the fun visits we had there with my dad and stepmom, Ann.
(The photo above is a beautiful sculptured fountain that sits on the waterfront of Osoyoos Lake.)
I don’t know how I would react either. I believe it is purely instinctive rather then a conscious reaction. I really think to a great extent, the body reacts virtually independent of the mind. I have seen people perform heroic acts only to have a melt down afterwards when their mind catches up with their body. As for the post, I enjoyed it. Rather thought provoking. Perhaps you would care to check me out at oldmainer.wordpress.com or poormanspoet.wordpress.com. Would welcome your visit.
Interesting reflections – I agree – whatever makes us react in the moment it is the body that jumps to action or freezes – an intelligence held within the body, independent, at those times, of our ability to bend our bodies to the will of our mind. Thank you for the invitation to check out your site – I will most certainly comply.
I have no idea what I would do either. I found it interesting that you questioned your values at that crucial time. My sense is that “fight or flee” is when we go into a very basic primal state, that over-rides our values, socialisation or emotions etc.
Good point on primal state – when you’re there, that’s it – whatever will be, will be.
Interesting subject, Francis. I’d have to answer “no” for a 30-year-old crisis and “yes” for one that happened last year.
Thirty years ago I was living in Frankfurt, Germany with my late husband Gus and our two children, a daughter (6) and a son (1). I was a stay-at-home mom at the time. Gus came home from work every noon for a hot meal – our dinnertime. We had just finished eating dinner in the kitchen and were still sitting around the table when Gus put our little espresso pot onto the stove to make us some coffee. Now this was the old-fashioned kind of pot into which you put water in the bottom piece, espresso powder into the holed metal basket, added a rubber sealing ring around the top edge of the bottom piece and screwed the empty top piece onto the bottom piece to form a little espresso pot. With the pot on a heating element, the boiling action should have forced the water up through the coffee powder basket and into the top area. Voila – espresso. Unfortunately Gus had neglected to put the sealing ring into place, causing the coffee pot to “explode”! Our one-year-old was trapped in his highchair. Our six-year-old sat frozen to her chair. Gus jumped into action to take the part of the pot still on the element off the burner and turn off the stove. What did I do? Well, obviously without thinking, I got the heck out of the room! I just ran out and left my kids sitting there, never giving them a thought! Was I ever disgusted with myself – and embarrassed. Luckily no one was hurt from the explosion. My kitchen, however, was another story. After hugs all around, Gus took the kids into the bathroom to clean up the three of them. I got busy doing my “penance.” First stripping down to my underwear, I grabbed a stepladder and bucket to wash off the ceiling; put curtains, towels, tablecloth and our clothes into the washing machine and dishes into the dishwasher; applied heaps of elbow grease to clean up the mess dripping from cupboards, stove, fridge, table, chairs, window, etc. and finally mopped the floor. I’m still embarrassed about my cowardly reaction. What a protective mother I was—not!
Last year when I was visiting my daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons (ages 1 and newborn) in Norway, I was proud and relieved to find out that my reaction to a crisis had changed from “flight” to “fight.” I was holding my 13-day-old grandson Ben at the breakfast table as we were discussing returning to the hospital with him as he was not looking or reacting well. All of a sudden he stopped breathing. I screamed, “He’s not breathing!” My son-in-law and I sprang into action and did CPR on him until the ambulance arrived and the emergency medical personnel took over. Soon a helicopter ambulance flew in carrying a pediatric cardiologist and finally the baby and doctor flew off for a hospital in Oslo with my daughter and son-in-law following in the auto ambulance. I stayed behind to care for the 13-month-old and two dogs. A few hours later my son-in-law called to tell me that Ben was dead and had been baptized at the hospital. I can’t even try to describe how heartsick we all were, still are, and perhaps always will be over the loss of Benjamin. I’ve always heard that the hardest loss is one of a child and now I know how true that is. An autopsy determined that Ben had a previously undetected heart problem which led to his death. Instead of the planned baptism, we began to prepare for a funeral. With God’s help, we all got through it somehow, and found comfort in being together. As it turned out our CPR did little to prevent Ben’s death, but I was thankful I had taken a refresher CPR course the previous year and that I had realized instinctively that my best reaction in this situation was “fight.”
I’m glad you posted your reflections up to your own blog Gayle – I’ve commented there. But I’ll repeat for people following this comment stream – I’m glad my post was able to call forth a life story that tells of two such different reactions at two very different times of life. Your story was funny at times, gripping, and heart-breakingly sad. Thanks.