What is a Life in Crisis?
I am using the term ‘Life in Crisis’ to highlight the realities of aid work: to show that whether necessary or not, aid workers often live in the midst of crisis, both internally and externally. They may be located in the middle of a war zone or in Head Office in a capital city in the global north or south; the point is that the crisis may well be a personal and inward experience, a result of overwork, disillusionment, fear and anxiety. This blog aims to highlight the emotional challenges that aid workers face, and how they deal with and understand them. I will be sharing some of the thoughts and ideas on this topic as I conduct research for my Doctorate, and will also use this site for occasional non-academic bursts of creativity and consciousness raising, such as stories related to my own experiences as an aid worker, yogi and mindfulness practitioner.
Respect and appreciation is owed to Peter Redfield, from whom I’ve stolen the term ‘Life in Crisis’. Redfield recently published a book of the same name which addresses the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by aid workers from Medecins Sans Frontiers. Redfield has also written about and defined the Life in Crisis in journal articles. In Doctors, Borders and Life in Crisis he writes:
“A crisis is both a potential historical event and historical deferment; a rupture that marks time indelibly yet stands outside it in a state of exception. Within crisis, time contracts and one inhabits the present as intimately as possible….In this respect, crisis is the most pure environment for a technician, where expertise can and clearly must engage in technical terms with the immanence of problems. It is also the natural habitat of a moral witness, who acquires the capacity to give testimony by virtue of presence.”
Peter Redfield (2005), Doctors, Borders and Life in Crisis, Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 20, Issue 3, p346
This blog will not reproduce Redfield’s ideas, although I may well refer to them to highlight that aid work is indeed full of complexity; as aid workers, we are constantly being faced with moral and ethical choices that we believe we will be judged on. We may have to make decisions that will affect whether someone lives or dies; or we have to make personal choices such as whether to remain in a job, or in ‘the field’, when to stay could damage our health and wellbeing, and to go would fill us with guilt for ‘abandoning’ our colleagues and those we are trying to help. Making these tough decisions does indeed require us to inhabit the present, to learn to listen – not only to those around us, but to ourselves.