My last Stephen class was about crises. They had several definitions of a crisis, including that old chestnut about the Chinese character for crisis being a combination of danger and opportunity (which is apparently not true). The one that I like is that a crisis is something that makes you reconsider your place in the world. You had a certain idea of how things worked, right or wrong, and then something happened, and now you have to figure everything out all over again just so you can go back to some kind of daily existence. You are not yourself, and you may not be sure who your self is anymore.
Everything in Stephen class is broken down in various ways, which I find really helpful. There are accidental crises, like a sudden illness or a job loss. And then there are developmental crises, meaning they are caused by expected changes in life, but they can still knock you over. They can even be good things, like getting married or having a baby. A crisis can affect you socially, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually . Dealing with a crisis, or multiple crises, can make you overwhelmed and disorganized. Your decision-making will likely suffer.
We had to do a workbook exercise where we answered a sort-of survey about a crisis that we had experienced and how it affected us. For my crisis, I picked something that happened nine years ago - the break-up of a long-term relationship. In answering questions about how this event affected me, I remember feeling like I'd lost my mind. I was not myself, and I was not sure who my self was anymore.
I realized that the people I will be helping as a Stephen Minister are going to be in the middle of all this. I will meet someone for the very first time on a bad day in the midst of bad days.
I met several brand new-to-me people at my own wedding. I don't always make good first impressions, but I think I knocked it out of the park that day. Radiantly happy, in a fancy dress with my hair done, handing out free food and alcohol. I felt like I needed to explain to these new friends that I was actually a regular person and not always like this, otherwise they were going to be very disappointed the next time.
In a way, I was not myself that day. Well, I was myself. I was incredibly myself. Just the happy parts, though. And nobody would expect me to be that version of myself all the time, even if they had just met me that day. And yet, had I met someone when in the course of losing my mind, they might think that I was always that version. I was incredibly myself then, too, but again, a very specific subset of myself that is constantly confused and makes rash decisions.
Dude, rash decisions. I mean, everything turned out great for me, but that was probably luck.
It is with good reason that openness and acceptance are stressed in Stephen Ministry. You can't help someone if you are obviously horrified by the ways they are handling their situation. Nor can you help them if you write them off as basically bad people. Maybe it's easier if you know up front that this person is having some kind of crisis, whereas if that crisis just manifested itself by making them cut you off in traffic, you might not be so generous. Every person is walking around right now in a specific context of their own lives. You never know which version of yourself will be the one people meet that day.