Human behavior is driven by pain and pleasure. We work hard to gain pleasure, and even harder to avoid pain. We seem to get things done when we absolutely have to. And when tragic events occur, I am reminded that we also bring out our best selves when we have to. Nothing prompts our best, most human selves more than large scale crisis.
Remember 9/11? Something amazing emerged from that historic nightmare as it unfolded. We looked beyond race and religion and bonded together in a way that felt instinctual. People risked their own lives, many dying in the process, in an effort to save others. Many flocked from around the country in the aftermath to help in any way they could. And towns across America came together to mourn, console, and pray. Yes, even pray together.
As I recently read a few stories about heroic efforts related to past crises such as 9/11, I was reminded that humans are pack animals. We thrive in a community setting. Once upon a time, humans bound together in smaller groups, or tribes. We were committed to one another. Nowadays, we barely know the neighbors on our street, our fellow co-workers, and even fellow church members with whom we share our deepest religious beliefs.
While we may disagree with each other’s political, religious, or cultural beliefs, it is safe to say that you would likely disregard those factors in an instant if you were in a crisis situation together. Why? Because on the deepest level, we are all human. And human nature is to care for, and look out for, one another.
So what is it about a crisis that makes us more human? What is it about crisis that moves us to action? And how can we be more proactive, human, kind, and generous without chaotic events blowing up around us?
Think about your health. When do you attend to it? When you are losing it or have lost it, right? When do you go to the doctor? When you have pain? When pain interferes with your life enough, you are moved to action. I see it every single day in my practice. New patients come because they are in pain.
What about relationships? When do you give your relationships the most attention? When there is a need? Either you want something, or you know it has gotten so bad that you must act to save that relationship. You buy her flowers because you screwed up. You reach out with a phone call because you want something. We invest in our relationships when we have to.
How about acting as if there is a crisis even if there isn’t one? Wouldn’t that be cool? One way to improve any area of life is to act as if you absolutely have to. Imagining a crisis will certainly help motivate you to attend to those areas of your life that you care about.
When you feel good, it is hard to spend the time and money on making it better. Coasting along in a relationship or job is so much easier than putting in time and effort on a regular basis. Two things happen when you take action when action doesn’t appear to be needed.
First, it’s a deposit in that account helping to ensure a crisis doesn’t actually occur. Remember, most crises happen after things have been declining for some time. Pain is the last thing to come on in most disease processes. Even if not measurable, investing in those around you has an effect.
Second, taking action when action doesn’t appear to be needed bumps whatever you’re working on to the next level. A good relationship gets better. A healthy person gets healthier. Your level of fulfillment gets bumped up. You experience a new level of satisfaction or success you didn’t know you were lacking.
So let’s not wait for the crisis to reach out to others. Let’s care for them and ourselves now, before the crisis hits. The barriers we create between what we should do and what we actually do are create by us, and thus can be broken down by us.