The Definition Of A Real ‘Crisis’

Susan Page
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Wednesday - November 11, 2009
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We need either a new definition for the word “crisis” or else our media and politicians need to find a new word to describe situations and events.

Everything in America today seems to be a crisis, which is defined by the dictionary as “a time when action must be taken to avoid complete disaster or breakdown.”

Most things we call crises in the U.S. really aren’t. They’re uncomfortable, challenging, a dilemma, even problematic, but not crises. National debt in the trillions is a crisis. Human trafficking of children is a crisis. AIDS orphans in Africa is a crisis. Gas prices going up 10 cents: uncomfortable. Traffic: problematic. America’s healthcare system: a dilemma.

The word crisis is used so often that Americans are either freaked out or have learned to live in a state of crisis (Prozac is having a banner year). Politicians play the so-called “crisis card” to advance their agendas by scaring people. Some of our media make a situation into a crisis to get us to tune in or buy or act now.

I just got this e-mail from my friend Janine Maxwell, author of It’s Not Okay with Me ( and co-founder of Heart for Africa. She is in the country of Swaziland in South Africa, where Heart for Africa helps orphans and widows of AIDS.


She writes: [We] started by going to see a family of 28 children who were living together (ages 2-17) because their parents had died of AIDS. As it turns out the info the MP (Member of Parliament) had wasn’t current and there were well over 30 children. I counted 26 under the age of 4 - obviously extended “family.”

Right next door an old granny just on Sunday died, leaving another 8 children as orphans. She had been caring for them for the past 5 years after their parents died of AIDS, and she was in her 80s.

If this year’s H1N1 virus - which has killed around 100 people out of 300 million (just over .00003 percent) in the U.S., and that has both a vaccine and antidote, Tamiflu - is a crisis, then what would you call a 60 percent HIV infection rate and 29-year life expectancy in a country smaller than Hawaii that has lost almost 200,000 people to AIDS since 2005?

What word would our media and politicians - who, by the way, never talk about this - use to describe 18 million children orphaned by AIDS worldwide by 2010, just two months from now?

If the situation were in the U.S., wouldn’t it be bigger than a crisis - more like a disaster? Certainly a disaster.

So if the Swaziland AIDS orphans issue is a disaster, why aren’t we treating it like a tsunami, hurricane, earthquake or terrorist attack, throwing every resource we have at it? Why aren’t we flying disaster teams in off aircraft carriers? Why aren’t we glued to our TVs watching minute-by-minute coverage of helicopters swooping down and dramatically rescuing these little orphans then treating their ailments, getting them counseling, housing them in new trailers or hotel rooms, making sure they don’t miss any school, providing them with food and books and love? Why aren’t we making it at least as big a priority as reforming healthcare in America, which is, by our government’s definition, a crisis, not a disaster?

Ask yourself if your own personal crisis is greater than that of children worldwide who face abandonment, abuse, sickness, malnutrition and worse, being sold into the sex-slave trade at age 4 or 5.

Ask yourself if a health-care bill didn’t pass this year in Congress, would it amount to a Swaziland-sized disaster - death and orphans?

I’m not saying we should ignore our issues (or not take a flu shot), but just put them into perspective. I’m suggesting that we get as passionate about those 30 children under age 4 living on their own as about paying 30 cents more at the pump or a slow commute or even a job, especially when an unemployment check is in the mail.

Seriously, is your life in crisis or just temporarily uncomfortable?

It’s important to reclaim our definitions and focus on true disasters, not manufactured ones.

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