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Contributed by Tori Black
Four weeks ago, I was skiing* down a hillside when my phone started dinging from multiple texts. The United Nations event that United Families International attends every year, and to which we bring university students eager to strengthen and defend the family, had just been canceled due to the coronavirus. Shutting down the Commission on the Status of Women was unprecedented, and we spent the next week trying to find ways to salvage this missed opportunity for the students who had spent weeks preparing. In the end, there was nothing to be done as the universities soon were canceling all school-sponsored trips. Within another week, on-campus classes were replaced by online learning.
Since then we have seen schools and businesses close. At the grocery store, some food and paper goods aisles stand empty. If you are lucky, you are now able to do your work remotely from home, but many people find themselves without employment and behind in rent. Others in essential services are working under trying circumstances. Elderly individuals living in nursing homes and assisted living communities are isolated from family. People are worried about their health, the health of their family and friends, their jobs, bank accounts, and the economy. Worse yet, you may be dealing with the grief of losing someone to this disease.
No escaping tribulation
My husband is a pilot. During his employment, we have lived through three economic downturns and the resulting turmoil in the travel industry that included massive layoffs, pay-cuts and airline bankruptcies. 9/11 felt deeply personal as planes belonging to my husband’s employer, and crewed by men and women who wore the same uniform as his, were flown into skyscrapers. We thought nothing could ever cause as much disruption in our lives as that did. Wow, were we ever wrong.
There is no escaping times of tribulation, whatever form it takes. The trials that come with life are life. When they are especially difficult, they are called “crucible moments.” Crucibles are small cup-like containers that hold substances that are being melted at very high temperatures. Trials are also crucibles when they are life-changing challenges, adversities, and losses that have a refining effect on a person. The saying “furnace of affliction” is an apt description for what it feels like when we are in the midst of a crucible.
Finding meaning in “crucibles”
In the Harvard Business Review article, “Crucibles of Leadership”, authors Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas describe a common denominator among leaders: the ability to “find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances.” Bennis and Thomas found that for leaders, “the crucible experience was a trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced them to question who they were and what mattered to them. It required them to examine their values, question their assumptions, hone their judgment. And, invariably, they emerged from the crucible stronger and more sure of themselves and their purpose — changed in some fundamental way.”
Stressful events are not experienced in isolation. They happen to us as families. Members are both affected by trials and impact how other family members respond to the challenges they face. In addressing stresses, every family is unique in how it functions and what it finds helpful. And the strategies that a family finds helpful may depend upon the kind of stressor it is experiencing. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the things our families can do to emerge from the crucible of the coronavirus like the leaders highlighted in the Harvard Business Review article – stronger and more sure of ourselves.
Family belief systems
What does your family believe? Beliefs and values give meaning and context to adversity and form a foundation for how a family can appraise and respond to the challenges it faces. When family members know they can trust one another, they know that they can count on one another in facing a crisis together as a shared challenge. This builds resiliency and allows family members to see a trial as meaningful, comprehensible and manageable.
A positive outlook gives family members courage and allows them to offer encouragement when times are tough. Individuals can draw upon one another’s strengths and potential. Most importantly, a positive outlook encourages family members to focus on what is possible while accepting what can’t be changed.
Family shock absorbers
There are certain habits and qualities that families can work on that can help them absorb the shock that comes with crucible experiences and build resiliency. Flexibility is crucial in moments like this as it promotes stability even as individuals grapple with change. Trials are rarely static – they shift with time. Flexibility allows us to adapt to challenges, adjusting our approach as time progresses. This builds confidence as family members experience the continuity and dependability throughout the disruption.
It is also important for family members to maintain a sense of connectedness – you are in this together! Parents need to provide strong leadership that is nurturing, guiding and protective. Parents that are cooperative, equal partners model the meaning of mutual support within the family. This helps family members understand that everyone can positively contribute and no one is alone in facing a crisis.
Take stock of your social and economic resources. In our last article, we highlighted the power of extended family and “forged” family in addressing life’s challenges. Extended family and friends broaden our network of support and provide models and mentors for children and adults alike. During economic crises, this is especially important. We all need to find ways to help each other even while we need to shelter in place.
When I went to school and majored in Marriage and Family Studies, one tool that was emphasized in several of my classes was the family meeting or family council. This is when a family meets together to discusses special needs, coordinate time and effort to projects, recognize achievements of family members, as well as other important topics. In an article about family councils, author Marvin K. Gardner shared that “family councils can help family members become committed to group goals they have helped to formulate. They can also help the family create an atmosphere of respect and understanding, solve differences, and become more organized.” The family council method moves beyond the use of compromise in seeking resolution to issues and implements consensus-building as the preferred mode of problem-solving. Using this method to address crucible experiences in the family builds unity and cooperation. This method of problem-solving is used by the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shares his experience with councils here.
Faith is a vital component in facing crucible moments. Spirituality alters our perspective regarding the trials in our lives and allows us to see ways in which afflictions impact our lives for good, giving trials value and purpose. Faith makes us open to inspiration which allows us to envision new possibilities for our future. Seeing our challenges through the lens of faith helps us to reassess, affirm and alter, if necessary, our priorities. Most of all, spirituality increases our commitment to helping others. When dealing with crucibles, spirituality is one of the best coping mechanisms available to us.
Keep looking forward
As we consider the methods we want to employ in dealing with crucible moments, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind: the strategies that a family might find helpful are often dependent upon the type of stressor they are experiencing, and each family is unique in how they function and in what helps them. It’s more important to be committed to each other than committed to a coping mechanism.
9/11 was a crucible moment for my family that we draw on today as we face new challenges and new uncertainties. Because of what we learned then, we are better able to deal with the concerns and trials presented by the coronavirus today. You will find that this is true for you as well. Someday, this too shall pass and you will be able to say you passed through this particular furnace with your family stronger and better equipped to face whatever the future brings. Of this I am certain.
*The word “skiing” is used loosely as I am new to the sport and a more apt description would be skidding down the hill.