We have the power to choose our response to crisis

We do not welcome this pandemic. But we can embrace our resulting choices. Where will we choose to go?

By Kathy Coffey / Leadership Snohomish County

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. —Viktor Frankl

Take a moment to think. What do you usually feel that you can control? Your schedule? Your surroundings? Your children? (That last one was supposed to make you laugh.)

What do you still feel that you can control during this emergency, amidst public health recommendations, business shutdowns, government-issued orders for safety and general uncertainty?

When we feel a loss of control, or are stuck outside our comfort zone in ways we can’t escape, we may react with anger, or fear, or frustration, or sadness, or anxiety. You might be feeling any or all of these emotions right now.

We’re certainly witnessing anger from a few of our neighbors taking up signs and protesting on the steps of the Capitol. We’re certainly hearing frustration from many neighbors who want answers about scarcity of testing and protective equipment for essential workers. We’re certainly feeling a collective angst with all of the uncertainty about what lies ahead.

Despite everything that changes each day and all of the headlines, it is still in our choices — that space between stimulus and response pointed out by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl — that we retain control. I am not comparing these dark times to what he experienced at Auschwitz. But Frankl’s observations apply. He noted in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”: “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” That is a choice.

Visiting our Leadership Snohomish County classes each year, Harry Parker, a corrections lieutenant at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, shares his thinking about choice. He considers choice the most powerful word in the English language. When I reached out to Lt. Parker, he recalled this story about some of the principles he shares with the Signature Class on Law and Justice Education Day. He starts with a breakdown of the word think:

THINK before you speak.

T — Is what you are about to say true?

H — Is what you are about to say helpful?

I — Is it inspiring?

N — Is it necessary?

K — Is it kind?

“When I was a young father,” Parker says, “I would talk to my children about integrity and character and just how important those traits are as you grow up. I would speak to them on and on about it. As we went about our days, I would find examples of actions from others that showed strong character or integrity. I would point out different ways to look at things that happened to us and those around us. I would point out that even when ‘bad’ things happened, there could be good to take from it. I would, and still do, make sure they both see the positive in all things.

“No one has control of what happens to them, but we all have control of how we respond to what happens to us. We choose to be the victor or the victim; to overcome our challenges, or succumb to them. Success is measured in a variety of ways. Mine is knowing I make a positive difference in the lives around me because I choose to.

“I have always considered myself very lucky. But as I grow older, I realize it is not luck at all, but it is my perspective on life that creates my future. You see, we all wake up every day and look to see how horrible and scary the world is or we wake up and see how many great people step up each and every day to make this a better place.

“It’s your choice.”

One Leadership Snohomish County alumnus, Matt Poischbeg, vice president and general manager of SEA-LECT Plastics, provides an example of the kind of action that Parker highlights.

The team at SEA-LECT Plastics began manufacturing injection-molded plastic parts for the Montana Mask. They had the capacity to rapidly manufacture these parts through in-house design, tooling creation and their injection-molding capabilities. They made a choice to make a difference. To exercise control over the space between the stimulus and a response for greater good.

When asked of his impetus to take action, Matt states, “I was looking for a way to help! With a factory at my disposal, along with talented engineers and apprentices at the ready, I didn’t hesitate to pivot our operations to make the Montana Mask for first responders and health professionals.”

Leadership matters. Choice is powerful.

You can see a quick You Tube video here.

Of course, we do not welcome this pandemic. But we can still embrace our resulting choices. Where will we choose to go? What systems work for us? What systems can we change? What’s next?

Where do we have an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-create where we are heading?

Where can we work with other organizations, companies and people to be more efficient, effective and even more compassionate?

Where can we hold on to all that we have found at home with those we care about? How can we continue to honor those things?

Change is never comfortable. And some of the changes we are experiencing right now are extraordinarily painful. Sometimes it feels as if we did not have a choice. We do.

Still, I believe in our humanity. This is an opportunity to create the future we want. To choose the world we want to live in. We can’t do this alone.

What choices are you making? What choices will you make in the future?

Please do let me know. This is the foundation of work our region needs to do. You can reach me at kathyc@leadershipsc.org to share your ideas and choices.

Kathy Coffey is executive director of Leadership Snohomish County, the local organization that connects, ignites and develops leaders to strengthen our communities. To learn more about Leadership Snohomish County, visit www.leadershipsc.org.

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