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Flights MH370 and MH17: Thriving in the Midst of Tragedy

In a recent news article, Malaysia Airlines reported low morale among its flight crew employees. And who could blame them? In March the organization lost 12 of its own in the disappearance of flight MH370. Then, to add insult to injury, another 15 crewmembers were lost in flight MH17. Losing 27 co-workers in the course of four months would be difficult for any organization to absorb.

It’s at times like this that our resilience as employees is tested. According to the America Psychological Association, resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. In a nutshell it means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

From time to time we are all called upon to shoulder tragedy. When we are, there are things we can do to not only survive these difficult times but to thrive. Here are some thoughts:

Talk about it

Connecting with others during times of stress serves many purposes. First, it allows us to reinforce important personal relationships. Second, it allows us to process and metabolize the events that have led to our stress.

Maintain a perspective

Two tragedies transpiring in the course of four months gives the impression that the odds are stacked against Malaysia Airline crewmembers. However, it’s important to remember that between the years 1992 and 2011, Malaysia Airlines flew 3.18 million flights. During that time the airline experienced about three fatal crashes. This makes Malaysia Airlines one of the safest airlines in Asia. As we’ve heard many times before, flight is still significantly safer than driving, yet we do this every day without a second thought. In the same way, when we go through times of tragedy it’s easy to let the event be all-consuming. It’s important that we step back and take the big-picture view and remember that this too shall pass.

Look for opportunities

With each tragedy come lessons learned and opportunities to make improvements. Channeling the anxious energy into positive action can not only help the individual but can also give the event purpose and meaning in the lives of others.

Take care of yourself

A friend of mine once noted that when we are remodeling one part of the house, the rest of the home tends to fall into disarray. The same principle applies to our own lives. As we slip down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we tend to forget the other parts of our lives that need care and attention. It’s important to be active, to exercise, be with others, and engage in activities that energize you.

Take care of others

One of the great dichotomies of life is that one of the best ways to take care of yourself is to take care of others. By reaching outside of ourselves and helping others in need, we imbue our actions with greater purpose and meaning than if we were to simply look after our own needs.

Take action

One of the reasons tragedies can affect us is because they can make us feel powerless. By taking simple yet deliberate actions in our lives—helping others, making change for the better, or working toward some other higher purpose—we’re able to take back some level of control.

None of these steps will make the tragedy go away. Indeed, we should never cheapen the experience felt by those affected by such horrible events. But tragedy does not have to be the end of personal thriving.

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