Erica Pinsky



Thoughts on a Crisis

Yesterday, while walking my dog, I passed two men speaking Spanish and heard one of them compliment my beautiful golden retriever. Pulling out the vestiges of my high school Spanish, I replied, “Thanks, where are you from?”

He told me that he was from Honduras, where life can be precarious. Simple things, like a woman being safe to walk her dog alone (something I take for granted) would be risky there. 

“Everyone is so focused on this economic crisis”, he said to me. “Even after being here 20 years, I still appreciate the beauty, prosperity and safety of life in Vancouver. Where is the crisis?” he asked, shaking his head as we parted ways.

I must admit that when I met this man, I had been thinking about the “crisis” and it’s affect on my clients, and, by extension, on me. Fear and worry are contagious. Even though I know how pointless it is to travel down the “what if” path, it is very hard to take the road less travelled when the crisis seems to confront us at every turn.

However, not everyone thinks the sky is falling. Dr. Cornel West, of Princeton University, describes the current crisis as a transitional moment. He sees it as the last gasp of the conservative era; an era characterized by the economics of greed, the culture of indifference and the politics of fear. In fact, Dr. West feels grateful to be alive to witness the end of this era. From his perspective, the question to consider is whether or not we are ready to make a commitment to fairness and justice in the face of greed, to compassion in the face of indifference and to hope in the face of fear?

The idea of this crisis as a turning point resonates with me. In my book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit, I argue that businesses seeking profitability in today’s diverse environment must look at their workplace cultures, and question the values upon which those cultures are based. Workplaces reflective of the conservative era Dr. West refers to often have traditional power based command and control cultures which produce disrespect, fear, and disconnection. If this crisis helps to transform those workplaces, then I say, “Bring it on!”

John F. Kennedy once said, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” More recently, Rahm Emanuel, the next White House chief of staff said “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s a opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”

I do not want to minimize the scope or impact of the current financial crisis. However, the critical question is, how will we choose to perceive it? Will we decide to see the danger or glimpse the opportunity that this crisis can provide? Will we be paralyzed by fear or will we do things we might otherwise avoid? Will we embrace hope and the possibility of change? Will we choose to commit to the values of fairness, justice, compassion, and respect?

I was not alone in thinking we were seeing the dawn of a new era when U.S. President Elect Barak Obama made his acceptance speech last month. I saw another sign last week, when I met with my accountant, who has always given me a box of chocolates to mark the holiday season. This year the money that she usually spends to buy gifts for her clients will be going to the Vancouver Food Bank instead.

Much as I love chocolate, I left her office elated by her decision. Let’s face it, even though my stock portfolio is tanking, I can still buy chocolate if I want it. I have never been unable to feed myself or my family. I have never been afraid to walk outside my house. While I may not have as much as I did last year, I still have more than enough. 

My neighbour from Honduras helped remind me how much I have to be grateful for. He helped put this current crisis into perspective for me. Seven years ago this month, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That truly was a crisis. This can’t compare. Not by a long shot. 

In the spirit of this season of miracles, light and hope, I have decided to embrace the current economic crisis. I am excited about the opportunity to commit to an era characterized by fairness, justice, compassion, and respect. What about you?

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or Eid Al Adha, I wish you and your loved ones a healthy, happy and respectful holiday season.


"In her book, Erica provides a wake-up call for employers by detailing why respect, as a core value, is so imperative. She then provides a persuasive argument why organizations should embark on the road map to respect. Particularly compelling are her personal workplace anecdotes as well as the case studies featuring some of the largest companies in Canada, who are getting respect right."

Melanie Sklarz
Diversity and Respect Coordinator
Edge Learning of Ohio RespectfulWorkplace.com