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Warren Macdonald

June 28, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Creating Through Crisis: Finding Opportunity in Adversity

Warren Macdonald has climbed over obstacles most people cannot imagine. Having lost both of his legs in a freak backpacking accident, he not only decided that his injuries wouldn’t slow him down―he decided they would propel him to new heights. Today, Warren writes from his heart about the recent, devastating Alberta floods. A resident of Canmore, Warren and his wife were lucky that their home survived the water, but many other homes around theirs did not. He takes a look at the feats of human resilience he’s witnessed in the last week, and how we can all learn from the people of Alberta (The photo above is of Warren’s Canmore neighbourhood):

If you fly as much as I do I’m sure you’ll be with me on this. From the time I leave for the airport, I just want to get the show on the road. Once I’m on the plane, I don’t want to hear about the hockey. I don’t want to overhear the last minute calls making sure the goldfish gets fed.

But when my wife, Margo, and I took our seats last Thursday morning in Calgary, headed for Moncton, New Brunswick to visit family, and I overheard the woman seated directly behind me say “a State of Emergency has been declared in Canmore,” well, that got my attention.

We moved to Canmore in March, and had left home the previous afternoon to spend the night in Calgary to be closer to the airport for our early morning flight. It had been raining hard as we left. Really hard. The rain kept up in Calgary throughout the night, but I didn’t give it any further thought until I overheard that woman’s comment.

Here are the key takeaway lessons I learned this past week as a result of the devastating Alberta floods that may be of use to you:

1. You can’t change what you can’t change:

Shortly after landing in Hamilton for a stopover en route to Moncton, we learned that our house was in the path of the disaster. As a friend put it, “the house might be still there by the time you get back, but it might not…”

For a moment, we considered turning around and going right home to deal with the situation, but since there was absolutely nothing we could do to change the reality of the flood, and since the highway in and out of Canmore was not just closed, but no longer existed in places, we went to New Brunswick.

Yes, we were glued to various screens watching the footage coming out of our own backyard with disbelief, but we also managed to do what we’d gone to Moncton to do: visit family. After all, you can’t change what you can’t change.

2. It’s up to you:

Stories are starting to circulate about some of the actions taken during the flood, from the feel-good to the rebellious.

A friend was asked to evacuate to another location, but sensing that if things got worse he’d have gone “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” he stayed. And so, along with his band of “Cougar Creek Refugees,” he was responsible for rescuing irreplaceable belongings for those that couldn’t get to their homes–belongings that could have been lost forever had those homes been swept away by the creek.

Now, I’m not suggesting you should disobey authority. I’m saying that at the end of the day, you are responsible for you. You know what your limitations are, and what skills you bring to the table. You might, as my friend did, decide that sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and proceed to take action. You might take action before the fact and ensure that you have candles and a flashlight around the house in case of an emergency.

Whatever the case, there’s an enormous gulf between having something happen to us versus making something happen.     That gulf is filled with our individual and collectives actions. Know that you play a part; that at the end of the day, your outcome is largely dependent on your actions. It’s up to you.

3. Crisis makes us stronger:

It’s often said that nothing brings people together like a crisis, and that’s true. People leading otherwise disconnected lives are brought together through the human desire to help. During the flooding, one family–within 90 minutes of receiving the knock on the door and the order to evacuate–had the entire contents of their house moved to higher ground by a band of strangers. At the local post office, a truck pulled up with a sign in the side window: “Need help? Use my truck! Call me: 403 678-XXXX.”

Make no mistake: the recent events spell disaster for many over the coming months. From those who are now homeless to businesses that rely on the summer tourists who now may cancel their plans to visit the area. But here’s what I know: Crisis makes us stronger. We may not want it. We’ll do anything to avoid it. But when crisis is forced upon us, an opportunity exists to become more than we were before. It doesn’t automatically make us stronger. It can, and often does, totally defeat people. But it doesn’t have to. There is always an opportunity to see something that may not be obvious at first glance. Something gets taken away and a space opens up for something new. Learn to look through various lenses at a given situation to gain a different perspective. Know that you have the power to survive.

By Warren Macdonald