Redefining “Crisis”

There’s a financial “crisis” looming in my son’s school district. State budget cuts, California’s notorious Prop-13 and any number of other factors have created a perfect storm of budget deficits that have swelled class sizes and threaten programs that the kids in the district enjoy.

The community, through our amazing school foundation, contributes more than $2 million to keep art, music and science programs in the curriculum, as well as picking up the tab on classroom and library aides, and technology upgrades. And the “crisis,” as it’s currently and often defined, is growing ever worse. The foundation will now also help pay for the P.E. programs. If our community can’t come up with the extra money, P.E. will be cut.

My son is in kindergarten, and ever since my very first school meeting (and there have been countless others since that first one) I’ve been inundated with the message that our schools are in “crisis.” We have a serious situation to be sure. However, not to belittle the importance of the programs that our foundation makes possible, or the fact that the deficits are growing, ever since that first meeting, I’ve always thought that positioning a budget shortfall (regardless of its size) in our community as a “crisis” was a bit, well, dramatic.

And now I know it is. We’ve all seen the Kony 2012 video. So far, 50 million people have watched it on YouTube and Vimeo. As I watched it, I was reminded of the true meaning of “crisis.”

To review, the Invisible Children organization is dedicated toward stopping the Ugandan Warlord, Joseph Kony. It wants to “make Kony famous.” That is to say – the campaign isn’t designed to celebrate Kony, but to make him notorious enough that people care and take action. Care about what? About the fact that Kony has kidnapped nearly 40,000 children and uses them as sex slaves and to mutilate and kill (even forcing them to kill their own parents).

It’s easy to understand how the “crisis” in Uganda makes the “crisis” in my community look like a picnic. No, that’s not nearly enough of a difference. Frankly, the two can’t be compared. And it’s not only about what’s going on in Uganda. There are plenty of situations in the world (and in our communities) that qualify as a “crisis.” Haiti. Syria. Darfur. Environment. Hunger. Homelessness. And on and on.

The point in all of this is that I want us all – including my community – to understand the difference between crisis and opportunity. Yes, together, those in my community need to recognize that there is an actual multi-million dollar budget shortfall. We need to recognize that we must come together to bridge that gap. It’s serious. But, let’s not couch the messaging of our situation in talk of a huge “crisis.” There is a “crisis” in the California education system, which is the bigger picture where California, the ninth largest economy in the world is 47th in the U.S. in per student funding and 50th in class size. Our budget deficit isn’t a crisis.

But, I just want to remind those in my particular community that we’re incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to fix our problem. We can keep our P.E. programs, arts, music, science, aides and technology. We can do this simply by donating to the school foundation. We do this by stepping up because it’s important to our community. It’s important for the kids and the future of our community. I’m not suggesting that it’s a proverbial drop in the bucket or that everyone in our community has dollar bills falling from the trees. Far from it. I am suggesting, however, that our “crisis” can be solved by coming together and digging deep. And, that opportunity makes us incredibly lucky.

I’m not one for pulling on heartstrings to manipulate action. And I’m also not one for saying, “let’s have some perspective…people are dying in Africa.” Everyone has problems that are personal and real. Instead, I simply want to say to my community (and to others!) – let’s get over ourselves. Let’s try to avoid the “fear mongering” and politics where they don’t belong. In our case locally, we need to step up the fund raising efforts this year because the budget situation is going from bad to worse. It’s as simple as that. If we don’t – programs get cut. If we don’t want that to happen…we can fix it. I love thinking about how powerful that is – we can fix it. There’s a clear solution!

Yes, we all need to wake up. Let’s not add drama where it doesn’t belong. Let’s not be the sports announcers who call a golfer “courageous” because he made a putt. Let’s try to avoid turning sparks into brushfires when it isn’t called for. And, maybe, if you’re like me, you’ll be moved by The Kony 2012 effort on behalf of the Invisible Children. Or maybe you’ll be moved by some other actual crisis, and in addition to helping whatever is needed in your community, you’ll be inspired to act and help solve that…crisis.

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