The End is Near: Crisis Orientation

The casual response to a crisis:

  • Stage 1: NOTHING is going to happen
  • Stage 2: SOMETHING may happen, but we won’t do anything about it
  • Stage 3: Maybe we SHOULD do something about it, but there’s nothing we CAN do
  • Stage 4: Maybe there’s something we COULD have done — but it’s too late now

How do you respond to a crisis? Some freak out. Others are indifferent. We see these various reactions with the coronavirus. Some resist and doubt the seriousness of the situation – as humorously illustrated by the above video. Others are extremely alarmed. Eagerly, they take all the precautionary procedures.

The range of reactions to crisis is based partly on personality and partly on culture. I want to talk about the cultural aspect. Years ago Sherwood Lingenfelter introduced ‘crisis orientation’ as a cultural dynamic. Lingenfelter describes these two approaches as follows:

Crisis Orientation Non-crisis Orientation
  • Anticipates crisis.
  • Emphasizes planning.
  • Seeks quick resolution to avoid ambiguity.
  • Repeatedly follows a single
    authoritative preplanned procedure.
  • Seeks expert advice.
  • Downplays possibility of crisis.
  • Focuses on actual experience.
  • Avoids taking action; delays decisions.
  • Seeks ad hoc solutions from multiple options.
  • Distrusts expert advice.

*For more cultural values go to ‘Common Cultural Values’

Remember Y2K?

The contrast between these two orientations was illustrated for me during Y2K. Remember that “crisis” when the year 1999 became 2000? We lived in Moscow at the time. Taking the impending doom seriously, my wife made gallons of soup, I bought gallons of fresh water, an LP gas space heater and several other supplies. We felt like we were ready to live off the grid for about two months.

Our Russian friends made no preparations for Y2K. They thought we were nuts and did not hesitate to tell us so. They said there was no reason to prepare, that no matter what, life would go on, and that even the worst case scenario did not sound like anything they weren’t use to already. “What could be worse than life as we know it now? Stuff shutting down can only be good”, they sarcastically said.

Come January 1, 2000, and it seemed like our non-crisis oriented Russian friends were right. Our crisis orientation had led us to invest our time and energy completely unnecessarily. Of course, had Y2K turned out to be an actual problem, our efforts would likely have paid off.

The Coronavirus Crisis

Browsing Facebook, I notice both crisis and non-crisis perspectives. Crisis orientation dominates. Notice all the posts linking to articles about the latest news and procedures. These are crisis oriented people keeping others informed. Seems like Facebook is especially suitable to crisis oriented people eager to get the word out.

Then there are a minority of non-crisis oriented people who complain about the inconvenience of the restrictions and express doubt about the severity of the virus. Most everyone comes around to take the situation seriously (as I think we all should) but the non-crisis oriented folks are much slower to do so.

Are You Crisis or Noncrisis Oriented?

As an American, I think it is fair to say that my culture is crisis oriented. I don’t think that we are quite as crisis oriented as Germany, Japan, or Singapore; but we are a long way from non-crisis oriented cultures such as Russia, Britain or Jamaica.

Based on my personality, I think I am moderately non-crisis oriented. As a result, I feel some inner tension with my own culture which I think has a tendency to overreact to the latest news scare.

For Discussion:

  • Would you say that you are personally ‘crisis’ or ‘noncrisis oriented?’
  • What about your culture? Would you say it is ‘crisis’ or ‘noncrisis oriented?’
  • What do you notice about this dynamic during the current coronavirus crisis?

Feel free to respond in “Leave a comment” below


  1. Hi Bob!

    interesting post. I’ve definitely seen both sides on FB – but I think the crisis side has prevailed. I’ve also really appreciated the humor side – those that lighten the mood with funny memes and such. As an enneagram 5 (supposedly) and a math nerd, I was immersed in graphs and data long before most people on FB were paying attention. I find that I can get so caught up in the data that I actually start enjoying the crisis unfold – until I remember that it’s real, and then it’s heartbreaking.


    • Hi Susan,

      Yes, the crisis oriented crowd has won the day. As they should in a genuine crisis.
      I get the 5 thing. As a fellow five, I have been eating up the news. For fun, I have a graph with my own projections. But, yes, this is serious.

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