War fosters uneasy feelings in all of us

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Many people say that everything has been different since Sept. 11, 2001. I join them and add that, no matter how different it has been, everything is heightened now that we are at war in Iraq.
If you gathered a thousand of your friends and co-workers and asked how things were different for them now, you’d probably get a thousand different answers. We each experience war in our own way. It isn’t something we plan; it just happens.
I’m not talking about the great divide between those who for a long time believed this war was necessary, and those who are still fighting against it. That division is complex and populated with many well-meaning people on both sides, and incendiary extremists on both sides.
That aside, just look around you to see many different responses to this change that has been rumbling for close to two years and spiked huge in March of this year.
Most of the behavior boils down to an unconscious drive to reduce anxiety. In addition, I know people — and so do you, I’d bet — who very deliberately and consciously are doing things to lower stress levels. That’s a healthy response to the widespread tension and might include increasing exercise, learning meditation, watching funny movies, laughing with friends, spending more time in nature or spiritual practice.
My church community has an outdoor labyrinth. After the war began, baskets appeared at the entrance to the labyrinth, baskets holding laminated cards with prayers for the Armed Forces, for the nations, for peace. I have walked that labyrinth a few times and found a measure of inner peace. I don’t ask why.
Others call themselves information junkies and stay glued to the television. They feel that the more they know the safer they are, and have to deal with sifting through the barrage of information pouring out of the TV and radio, much of it conflicting. Some of these people find it hard to leave the television screen even to sleep, and some feel that way because they have sons, husbands or brothers fighting for us.
One of my best friends has a son at the front, and she holds her breath many times each day, thinking she may get a glimpse of him in a news report and know, really know for that moment at least, that he’s OK.
Others seem to find comfort in becoming instant experts, and setting straight all their friends and colleagues who obviously have got it all wrong. (I think the networks hire some of these if they can put "retired military" after their names.)
Others seem to deal with the anxiety only through action. And that action takes many forms, depending on the person. Some send money or supplies to the front, others band together to show support for the troops or to protest the war. Some say they are doing both at the same time — a difficult concept for me to grasp.
There are others who deal with the discomfort by avoiding, to the extent they can, any newscasts or conversations about the war.
Most parents are exercising care in the exposure their children have to the barrage of war news and straining to find the language to talk to them about the realities they can’t avoid.
Whole school systems struggle with the issue of how to deal with this war — in the classroom. And some adults feel safest if they limit themselves to very small doses of news — or thinking — about the war.
Among your colleagues, wherever you work, you’ll find some, if not all of these reactions, and probably some others I haven’t mentioned.
We are all affected emotionally in many ways. My husband and I both had tears falling down our faces when we watched an interview of an infantryman mourning his comrade killed in that "taxi" suicide bombing. We hear of inhumanity to man, and we’re angry. A report, a thought, a siren — and we feel fear stepping up our heart rate. We grieve. We hold each other a little closer.
We are all affected in our thinking; our cognition is infected with this war. No one can avoid it completely, and we are a nation proud of our right to think for ourselves. So these brains of ours are distracted from their usual activity for some moments or hours.
All of this affects our behavior of course, and may strengthen or rattle our belief systems.
It’s only human.
For those running a business, or a department within a business, you will see these same reactions emerge in the face of change. The bigger the change, the more likely these reactions will appear.
Change within our own organizations is essential. And the impact will reflect a microcosm of what the international community is experiencing now.
We can learn to expect and respect these various human responses, and as leaders do our best to guide our employees through change with truth and justice.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay, and can be reached at 414-332-0300, or jo@hawkins-donovan.com. The firm’s Web site is www.hawkinsdonovan.com. Hawkins Donovan will respond to your questions in this column. Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.

April 18, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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