21 lessons from a little bit of a crisis

9V-SVK tailI’m flying at 37,000 feet. The lights are off, the film is in full swing, a gin and tonic soothing the blood.

The door near us continues to make a noise that we have all resigned to live with until we land. The seat belt sign comes on. The plane judders, like the brakes are on. 3 or 4 minutes. The lights come on and then weirdly go off. We have just made a 180 degree turn over Afghanistan, going back on ourselves. We glance at each other. Then, without warning, the oxygen masks drop down – “Emergency situation” a disconnected voice tells us. We start to descend. Fast.

Now this is not made up. Honestly. Here’s the news piece relating to it. I was there. Me. I took a selfie in the middle of it as a memento. Around me were scared people, concerned people, sleepy people, mildly hysterical. Quiet, reflective, anxious. On reflection, there were even characters from the film Airplane, including two lovely middle-aged Filipino ladies praying with rosary beads. Surely not? Don’t call me Shirley. Anyway, the point of this is not the story. It was the experience and the learning. Sitting in Baku Airport, Azerbaijan (won’t be recommending this place), after an emergency landing, I penned a few reflections as the experience and aftermath emerged. I put them away. Carried on with my holiday, and added to them as they emerged. Distilled them and here they are.
The point is that in crisis, people react differently, unexpectedly and what you think you might see or experience is different. But there is learning. Wisdom. Insight. People are remarkable. There are many who have been through real crisis much more than this – no one died here, no one was hurt. We thought at one point we might plummet into Taliban central, but in the end we didn’t. So proportion matters. But for what its worth my 21 lessons are here to share.
  1. Trauma and fear can be a gift as they help calibrate what’s next
  2. Life is a bit short, quite fragile and enormously precious
  3. How you are with others in a crisis will be remembered by others and yourself
  4. Civility, order, discipline, kindness and respect are taken for granted 
  5. The experience of others can distort your experience and how you remember it 
  6. What’s normal and what isn’t get lost – a new normal soon emerges. Embrace it
  7. Be practical first and emotional second….but be emotional 
  8. Afterwards reframe things to move on 
  9. A cup of tea is mystical and sent from a higher order or spirit 
  10. A contribution, however small is more important than passive nothing 
  11. Human communication without words is more amazing than you though possible – a reassuring smile goes a long long way 
  12. Spirit emerges real fast 
  13. Knowledge of yourself helps before, during and after 
  14. Random acts of kindness shine very brightly – the lady who bought the largest bottle of wine in the airport and gave out a paper cup full for everyone springs to mind 
  15. Rumour and speculation don’t solve the crisis, but helps prepare and process solutions 
  16. The new currency in a crisis is – a phone charger, adapter and cash 
  17. Information is oxygen 
  18. Giving to others helps beyond words 
  19. Leadership comes from unexpected places and people – go with it 
  20. You are more resilient than you knew you were 
  21. A hard floor to sleep on is a hard floor anywhere – pack a pillow
I hope all this never happens to you – well maybe I do just a little…..

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