Selflessness in crisis situations
On the way to the airport in Vienna last June I had to change trains at a big station, called Praterstern. I noticed that the system was down, so all the displays showed an error message instead of the train schedule. I realised I had no clue what platform my train would depart from, so I looked up the information online. According to the internet, the train was going to be 5 minutes late. I arrived at the presumably correct platform and waited until the train was supposed to arrive. Because the displays at the platforms also didn’t work, meaning that they didn’t announce what trains are going to come next, this situation turned into a huge mess. The train to the airport was even more delayed and so it wasn’t clear if the ones arriving in the meantime were the airport trains (somehow it also didn’t say on the train). At some point people entered the wrong train and only because I asked those who had already been on the train, about whether it’s the train to the airport, we found out we were on the wrong one. The whole crowd finally made it to the correct train. This situation intrigued me – I realised that this mess in which the crowd and me found ourselves in did have a positive side effect: people talked to each other. Instead of minding our own business, our eyes clued to our phones, we realised we are all in the same situation and I had this sense of connection with other people. This sense of not being alone. This sense of being fully present and mastering a situation together.
Then I remembered that I always liked these kind of “crisis situations” in a way. I remembered a birthday party in our courtyard when I must have been around 5 years old. It was summer, we were playing in the garden and in some kind of common room. Suddenly it started to rain heavily. While that depressed the mood of some others, and especially the parents, I truly enjoyed helping out rescuing all the toys lying around in the garden. Dealing with the situation together gave me a sense of belonging. I guess this situation stuck in my mind, because I found my joyful feeling out of place back then; Why would I enjoy such a crisis situation?
The train situation in Vienna finally made me understand my feelings during the rain incident. Later this summer I experienced another rainy event: On our last hiking day, Enrique and me got into a heavy thunderstorm. A few minutes after it started we found a shelter created by a big stone lying on top of another. 3 other people were already sitting underneath. We stopped to talk to them and they asked if we wanted to join. We did. And again, despite freezing, I felt this sense of being able to live through a “crisis” together.
In other occasions, where I felt this feeling of belonging and mastering crises together, I was helping colleagues (or colleagues helping me) with submitting something in time for a deadline. Those situations made me realise that offering my help in crisis situations comes from a very selfless motivation: I don’t care about any kind of benefits for me that could result from mastering the situation. What I get out of it is the sense of connectedness with others – that we are there for each other in situations of need. When people I helped through a “crisis” show their appreciation, of course I am happy, but I don’t need and expect gratefulness in these cases. I take it for granted that we do that for each other. When they offer me some kind of compensation (like an invitation for lunch etc) I refuse. I emphasize that I enjoyed helping out and that I need nothing back for that.
While I want nothing back and I do love helping people in crisis without any self-interest, I realised that I don’t appreciate it, when people expect a lot of gratefulness from me when they helped me out in a crisis situation. Usually I show my gratefulness anyway, as I can’t help to express it, but in those rare occasions, where afterwards I was so exhausted that I might not have been able to do so, I do not appreciate it if their help is held against me. Finding out who sticks with me in a crisis has turned out to be quite a good filter for who are good friends and who I can occasionally have fun with, but shouldn’t count on.
Update (14th June 2022): 2 years ago we faced a crisis all together – The Corona Crisis. How you have experienced it in terms your connections with strangers, friends, partners and family? I am looking forward to read about your experiences in the comments below or in a message 🙂
Written by Julia Heuritsch | Last edited: 14th June 2022