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Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in At TMV, Guest Contributor, Politics | 2 comments

How To Handle a Crisis (and How NOT To)

It is the Winter Solstice at precisely 9:30 PM PST (or 12:30 AM EST, 3:30 AM GMT). And, on the darkest day of the year, we manage to come to one of the darkest moments of the political year, coincidentally.

I’ve never trusted neatness …

Which brings me to a point I’ve wanted to make for some time: the “crisis” that the Tea Party screams out is not actually a crisis. It is an outcome. It is, perhaps, an inevitable crisis down the road, but it’s NOT A CRISIS.

What? you ask?


Starting on Thanksgiving Day, 1983 to July 1993, I spent a big chunk of time being homeless. (And no, Ted Nugent, it wasn’t from a lack of employment or trying, but, rather a series of bad runs of luck that had me clawing my way just to the rim of the cliff from which I was continually falling, only to have Fate stomp on my fingers. Lather, rinse and repeat.)

There is something clarifying about being homeless, however. First, it is a REAL crisis. You HAVE to find food, a place to “BE” and a place to sleep every day, and the days I knew in the morning where I was going to park my carcass that night were few and far between. And you have to find a place to pee. A place to perform ablutions. A place to do your laundry — clean clothes are MUCH warmer than dirty clothes, and I spent winters in Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico homeless, so this ain’t no hang out on Venice Beach and crash in a Santa Monica park I’m talking about.

And the most important skill that you learn is this: DEAL WITH WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOU.

When you’re homeless, the quaint notion of what you’re going to “do for the weekend” is utter hogwash. You have to deal with TODAY, babies. You have to secure the Big Four in the order of urgency: Offload Waste. Find Food. Find a Place to Be. Find a Place to Sleep.

In my case, it was also, Find a pack of Cigarettes. But the urgency of that last always helped get me off my duff in search of the other four when the Black Dog bit.

You learn: Take care of today, today. Take care of tomorrow, tomorrow.

Cigarettes reminded me, every day, that I was a junkie for the Big Four, and I had to get my daily fix.

You learn a flexibility of thinking and a focus. You need these things, and you continually keep those immediate goals in mind. Many was the day that I didn’t find that place to sleep (and, in winter, it better be warm, or you don’t wake up, or, worse, you wake up sick.) You CANNOT afford to get sick. You cannot afford to get injured. Once you get on the downside of the equation, the slide becomes parabolic, not to be hyperbolic. I saw homeless people that I knew dead a week later from some minor catastrophe. These are not “my freedom under the Constitution is being theoretically impinged” issues. These are inescapable daily verities.

You learn to focus on the necessary. On the day. In the NOW.

You also learn that, while you can plan and plot and scheme, plans rarely work out as devised, and you have to constantly keep the goal in mind. Do you need matches or a lighter, OR DO YOU JUST NEED A LIGHT FOR THIS CIGARETTE?

Anti-anti-smoking poster found on the web

Do you need glasses or do you just need to know what THIS sign says?

We don’t usually see life in these terms, of course. We see it as an endless parade, and we dream about cruising the Mediterranean with our Retirement Nest egg and how proud our grandkids will make us. We dream of moving up the corporate ladder. We dream of creating the perfect confluence between the Pie In The Sky Constitution guarantees of freedom of speech and call in to talk radio shows when Huckleberry Finn has been banned, yet again, for offending some current sentiment, as it has for a century and more.

That’s a luxury we can engage in because we pee’d in our own bathroom, after arising from our own bed, ate in our own kitchen, drove our own car to our own job, and slapped another nicotine patch on our deltoid. Another EXPENSIVE patch, that is.

This world is not NEAT and tidy for any grand philosophy or religious scheme. It is messy and ofttimes contradictory and Grand Answers don’t solve immediate needs with any consistency. We can engage in them only when we have the luxury of NOT being in the middle of a flood. We can theorize about the cause and economic losses of the flood when we are back on dry land with our own bed, and bathroom and kitchen, car, job and philosophy for fixing all the problems of the world.

But those are luxuries.

As is the luxury of fixing the long-term theoretical problems with Medicare and Social Security.

As is the luxury of holding out for grand ideological principles.

Let me tell you a story about a farmer. It’s an old an well known one, and I’ll let Michael Clark tell it to you:

A farmer is in Iowa during a flood. The river is overflowing, with water surrounding the farmer’s home up to his front porch. As he is standing there, a boat comes up. The man in the boat says “Jump in, I’ll take you to safety.”

The farmer crosses his arms and says stubbornly, “Nope, I put my trust in God.”

The boat goes away. The water rises to the second floor. Another boat comes up, the man says to the farmer who is now in the second story window, “Jump in, I’ll save you.”

The farmer again says, “Nope, I put my trust in God.”

The boat goes away. Now the water is up to the roof. As The farmer stands on the roof, a helicopter comes over, and drops a ladder. The pilot yells down to the farmer “I’ll save you, climb the ladder.”

The farmer says “Nope, I put my trust in God.”

The helicopter goes away. The water continues to rise and sweeps the farmer off the roof. He drowns.

The farmer goes to heaven. God sees him and says “What are you doing here?”

The farmer says “I put my trust in you and you let me down.”

God says, “What do you mean, ‘let you down’? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!!!”

My point (which has nothing to do with your religion, since it works for all of them) is that the man’s IDEA of reality trumped his ACTUAL reality. Rather than fix the immediate problem, he put his faith in his belief system to “save” him, and he drowned.

We are in a flood right now, friends.

Europe threatens to collapse economically, and we’re not far behind.
But, rather than the homeless approach of dealing with what’s immediate and necessary, the House Republicans have chosen to play the farmer, with their ideological notions of what will “save” us trumping even their perception that there IS a crisis.
This has been going on ever since the economic collapse of September 2008.
Which is exactly how NOT to handle a crisis.

General Ulysses S. Grant (IIRC) was asked what the biggest thing he’d learned in the war was, and he replied, approximately: The most important thing I learned was never to make decisions until I had to.

Because things change in a crisis, and when you approach a crisis with a grand battle plan, that thing that looked so good on the map turns out to be impossible, and those who can adapt and decide in the immediacy of the moment succeed.

Those who can’t either die, are wounded or are elected to congress.

Daniel Sickles


A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.