In my part of Sydney, we just had a whole row of days straight with practically no smoke in the air until today. My thoughts are with those amongst us around the country who aren't so lucky to be getting such a reprieve right now, who's homes and communities are being directly impacted by the impacts of fires daily. My thoughts are with the incredibly courageous, selfless and dedicated people giving their everything right now to trying to get these situations under control, and to managing and caring for the communities being directly impacted. Sometimes it can be easy to forget when we're in the middle of it, feeling alone, but i think the whole world is now with you, with us, praying for an end to this.
I’m not sure about where you are in the world, but there is A LOT of Anger moving in Australia right now. It’s everywhere you go in Sydney, from SM chats about the fires, to shopping centre and apartment car parks, to on the streets, everyone seems just 3mm off their fuse burning down to the dynamite, if it hasn’t already blown at someone nearby. Above and beyond the usual Christmas hustle, with all that’s been going on with the fires right now, according to the SBS press release from the ex fire chiefs this week, now in every state, nation wide, not just on the East Coast, it’s not hard to understand why people nation wide (and internationally) are fired up. I wanted to write a blog today to help give a little space to acknowledging what's really going on in the psyche of so many right now and make a couple of suggestions about how Leaders everywhere, at a Grass Roots level, can do be doing something to support people through this.
Here’s the thing about anger. Anger is nearly always a top level emotion and coping mechanism masking something deeper. Often one of its two fellow siblings, either grief, or fear, among other things. Events the likes of which are happening right now, bring us face to face with our own mortality and trigger a whole lot of emotions that extend even further out of those two like branches on a family tree. Let's just take the main ones i'm hearing and seeing people talking about.
For some, apart from sudden events also being a sudden shock to the system, they bring up grieving of many forms. That things are not turning out how I hoped they would, or like I wanted them to. Grief for someone or for a future I’ve literally or seemingly lost through circumstance. (Anger and disappointment at who might be to blame, or over what we feel powerless to change, or couldn't do when we so wished we could.) Grief for a sense of control or feeling of safety and comfort one perceives they may no longer have. Grief about where we spoke up and asked for help, asked for what we needed, and perhaps weren’t heard or were rejected. Grief for those with love and directly or vicariously for the people, animal, homes, lives lost and all this destruction. Maybe grief and guilt about how one is a part of it all and what one could’ve done or not to help prevent this. Survivor guilt is absolutely a thing. And not just grief in the present, but events like these, whether directly or indirectly impacting us, can also re-open old wounds of grief and loss of many forms, not yet fully healed.
And then there's fear. (It might help to imagine all of us in big circles of community as you read this, side by side, doing what a nation of friends do, maybe holding each other's hands, but definitely having each others backs and just being there, know that you're not alone as you read this.) Fear, as in I’m afraid for the safety and wellbeing of the people I love. Fear of not being able to get to or be with those we love. Afraid of what would happen to those we love if we weren’t here. Fear for one’s own immediate health and safety, in the short term. Fear of what might happen. Fear of what is suddenly now an unstable picture of the future, on many levels, in the long term. Fear of losing everything one has worked so hard to create. Fear, as in, I’m afraid to admit that I don’t know what to do or how I can help or fix things and I feel unsafe and out of control.
For some, being afraid of being left alone, or worst, dying alone in a crises, with no one to call. Fear that there in no-one to help you. Fear of what one hasn’t yet done or achieved, or the legacy one hasn’t yet finished. Fear that it might all be redundant, in a future that no longer exists. Fear of speaking up and being labelled melodramatic, too much, not enough. Fear of being judged, or what one might lose by taking a stand. Fear of others outbursts or violent reactions and being made a target for their outbursts. Fear of how one will cope and care for their loved ones, or where one will end up if they have to be evacuated...and who you’d be sharing space with at such a time. Fear about who one can ask all the questions or depend on for support if one is suddenly displaced from work or home. Fear of fire. Fear of pain. Fear of dying. Fear of not being able to outrun fear itself.
The secret things we end up thinking about, that we might think we’re the only one. Until somebody brings it up at work. Or some random woman writes a blog about it.
For a large percentage of people, when they feel powerless or helpless to do anything and scared of what is going on, when they feel overwhelmed and out of control, they lash out in anger. The easiest, but literally, like flames themselves, the most internally and externally destructive means there is of releasing the tension.
So while our world may look very angry right now, a large part of what it really going on is that we are hurting and we are scared, in a time of great uncertainty. And hurting, scared people, need not just Leadership, but love and an opportunity to talk about, process and work what’s going on.
All of us. And then, especially the 1/4 of the population who had the kind of upbringing where they may have never had a sense of secure attachment or safety at such times, who are even more prone than most to feeling these kinds of distress and anxiety at these times.
Our job as Leaders at times, is in part, showing up modelling the kind of love, presence, reassurance that people might never have had. A little bit like the parent/s they might never have had. But, having formerly worked supporting Victorias most senior level Emergency Services Managers at Rural Ambulance Victoria in years past, I also like to think of it as being like the way the emergency services personnel show up for you in your moment of need. People everywhere need to know that someone has got them, support is on the way and we’re not going to leave you, until you’re safe and you’re ok. Beyond the immediate moment of dealing with that, when we/they are ready, people also need to hear what is being done to resolve things and possibly to know what THEY can do if they would like to contribute to making a difference.
What do people need from their Leaders at times like this?
Your presence- to just know that you are there
Compassion- to know that you genuinely care
Emotional support- One of the simplest gift you can give is a supportive ear, to listen, while people talk about how this is impacting them right now., and soundboard their way through it.
Accountability- to know that those in Leadership are willing to take responsibility for doing something about what is happening right now and to see them step up to doing something about it for the wellbeing of their tribe
Action plan- they need to hear what can be done and the plan on what we’re going to do to navigate this and get things back on track. Plus they need guidance on who’s going to be involved in that plan and what might be required of them/how they can participate and help in the resolution of the problem or circumstance.
Unity- they need to be reminded of the values you share with them and of the things you both care about that bring you together.
Hope- Even if there’s bad news to be delivered, they need you to deliver the bitter, unpalatable, hard to digest part, with a slice of lime and soda to take the edge off, in the form of reassurance, optimism and or alternatives, that leave you connected and quietly hopeful, that while a challenge still remains, things can be improved and there is something you can do to help improve them.
Why do I share this right now? To create awareness that, if you’re in part feeling any part of this right now, you’re not the only one. Acknowledging is the first step to dealing with it in a healthier way.
For the Leaders amongst us, while many out there are angry about the apparent Leadership vacuum, remember, the actually isn't one, because maybe that vacuum is meant to be filled with, well, YOU! At a Grass Roots level, there is something that every one of us can do, from that list above, to help support our tribes through what is.
Even if they're not saying it out loud, your tribe need your Leadership right now and your efforts CAN make a difference. As a colleague said to me the other day, i'm with you, we're with you. You got this and WE got this.
Let me know if i can help you.
Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.