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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Knowing Amidst Unknowns

Written by: on September 14, 2020

Six weeks ago, I was backpacking through the Sisters Wilderness Area, taking in the sights, breathing in the clean air, and searching for the Holy of God along the way. I feel like I don’t know a whole lot during these pandemic, racial unrest, and economic downturn days. What I do know is hiking those trails provides perspective and hope. It is grounding to walk through ancient lava fields, surrounded by immense boulders. It reminds me I am but a wispy vapor in this vast span of eternity. Though much of the lava field is desolate, on occasion, sections exist where evergreen trees grow through the cracks of those hard places; a reminder that life emerges from destruction, it just takes time and some favorable conditions.

I had no idea by early fall, I’d be sitting under a heavy blanket of smoke and ash as a result of wildfires engulfing the state, devastating some of the holy ground I’d walked upon. Sparked by various factors and fueled by a historic windstorm, these fires have produced catastrophic events, not only in Oregon, but all along the Western US.

As the fires spread in my county, evacuation alerts were issued. My little town was placed in the Level 1- Ready zone. The line for Level 2- Get Set- was a mile away, just across the Willamette River. And Level 3- Mandatory Go- was a few towns over. I am not a wildfire expert, as I grew up in the land of sweet tea, hurricanes, and tornadoes. But thankfully, when my son was in 5th grade, he was alerted that the “big earthquake” might happen any day, so he spearheaded our emergency kit preparedness plans. Thankfully, the big earthquake hasn’t happened, because reexamining those kits this week, I realized we were only about 70% ready for a major disaster.

That preparedness status has changed as I hustled to complete the kits, pack our bags, and gather important documents. Our “go” items have been sitting by our door the past 4 days. In the event our Level 1 placement moved to Level 2, we’d load up and head to my in-laws in Washington. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened. As of today, we have been downgraded to Level Zero. Still the air quality is hazardous, ranking as some of the worst air quality on planet earth. A stark contrast to our normal.

When tragedy strikes and I’m not sure how to proceed, I look to the experts for guidance. Checking the county fire department for updates became an obsession for three full days. I needed to know someone out there knew what was going on and how best to manage the circumstances.

On Friday, I listened to an interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting with one of the top fire chiefs/marshalls. I didn’t catch his name, nor did I know his exact title. What I did know is that he sounded like he knew what he was talking about. He was level in his presentation of information and set reasonable expectations for the public.  He shared what he knew and what he didn’t know. Because the truth about wildfires is that nature plays a huge part in how they behave and are contained, and nature is quite unpredictable. It was clear, this leader, despite years of expertise and experience, only knew so much. And I was completely ok with his not knowing. He knew enough to make a difference, but not too much as to be an arrogant ass. His honesty and humility were refreshing, especially during these days where few leaders seem to embody such traits. I wonder if this humility comes from working in a profession that faces the possibility of death each time an unpredictable fire is faced?

As I reflect upon various leaders, I’ve noticed the more a person embodies their own limited humanity, the more capable they are in leading in humble yet authoritative ways. Perspective matters, especially during times of crisis and unknowns.

About the Author

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Darcy Hansen

13 responses to “Knowing Amidst Unknowns”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Darcy, I think you’re on to something about the fire chief’s perspective and how that influences leaders. Taleb goes into the idea of “antifragility” that as a culture, we’ve become so risk averse that we’ve lost the ability to grow. We avoid stressors at all costs because it makes us uncomfortable, which in turn weakens our own resolve. In a profession such as firefighting, there is a constant stressor – particularly in these days – that forces them to grow and to put life in a different perspective than we may carry. We’ve insulated ourselves and don’t know what it means to truly risk it all, but when you’re staring death in the face it makes you pause and reflect. The reality is that we DON’T know what’s going to happen, and that’s okay. But the measure of control we try to exercise in eliminating risk and probability isn’t helping us the way we think (according to Taleb).

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Dylan,
      Clinging to the illusion of control is exhausting. For me, choosing to walk by faith involves releasing that illusion. Risk is always involved in the release, and sometimes large student loans, and no real end-game insight. But I find that taking risk is way more interesting than sitting around in my easy chair watching the world go by. As leaders, we have to first be comfortable in the uncomfortable places of risk, so we can help others do the same. Thank you for sharing what you are learning from Taleb. I look forward to cracking that text open soon.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy,
    How do you see your perspective changing as you walk through this stage of your life? How might it change as new possibilities unfold? The glorious thing about nature is as trails rise and fall with elevation, as they twist and turn our perspective changes but even if the mountain range doesn’t. I am often amazed at how my perspective changes of God as I journey through life when He himself is unchangeable.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Greg,
      I definitely think my perspective of God has changed, and in many ways is becoming more whole as God takes me along the twists and turns. God is drawing me into a deeper relationship of trust through the unknowns. In past contexts, I always knew what was expected of me, and for the most part God showed up in beautiful, but expected ways. In this season, I’m not quite sure what each day holds, which is very freeing but also disorienting. It forces me to lean in a bit closer each minute of the day and trust things to unfold. Sometimes that unfolding looks like me being very still for a day or a week or more. In that posture of stillness, I’m learning to listen in new ways, to discern different whispers from God that aren’t always straight forward directives like given in the past. My relationship with God is more subtle now, more nuanced, more colorful and free. How that shapes me as a leader is still to be determined. I hope it is positive and others will benefit from the fresh perspectives God continues to provide.

  3. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Being willing to articulate what we know and that there are things that we simply don’t know seems like such a refreshing style of leadership. Thinking espeically to our fires in OR, I’m struck by how in the midst of such devestation, a fire marshall who operated with such humility was helpful.

    Too, I’m humbled by the idea that his level of confident uncertainty was likely informed by years and years of observing the unpredictability of fire. Makes me wonder how many colleageus he’s lost over time because of over-confident actions of arrogant leaders who “knew” what was going to happen. Gentle, confidence-inspiring uncertainty is seems to be cultivated through pain, loss, and getting it wrong in the past.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Agreed. There’s a level of attentiveness and wisdom woven into such leadership. A leader has to be willing to not only be wrong or not know- but be willing to lean into those spaces, admit such things, learn, and grow. I think that is what you’re picking up on in your observation of a fire marshal seeing fires tackled in a cavalier or arrogant way. Indeed, pain and loss will shape us, if we allow it to.

  4. mm Chris Pollock says:

    It is so human to not know things. So disarming. What lightness and relief can come in the experience in this common, unifying humanity of not knowing!

    That confident uncertainty can derive from knowledge is such a beautiful paradox.

    Do you think there’s a differentiation that occurs with experience and personal growth (perhaps, through the pain of not knowing) that relieves the need to impress?

    I’d like to not wear my hat so much and, just let my hair out a bit. Feel the breeze. Let the flow, flow!

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Chris,
      Differentiation does happen when experience and growth combine. But I think one has to be willing to allow it to happen. It takes times and doses of wisdom to be able to be in circumstances but not defined by them. Parenting has been a crucible for such learning for me. For so long my identity was wrapped in in my kids. Its taken years of counseling and prayerful awareness to realize I do not define my kids nor do they define me. For so long, I wanted to be a good parent. Now I just want to parent well. In a way, that’s like taking off the hat and letting the flow, flow;)

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    I agree with all you said about the official and his honest communication. But the imagery that struck me first was that of breath- you were hiking in the mountains, taking in the crisp, fresh air. In the midst of a pandemic, as it’s been drilled into us about the dangers of the particles of air we breath. Now writing from the clouds of smoke and how difficult and dangerous it is to breathe. In one post, you’ve illustrated the great paradox. We must breathe to live and yet this same breath can be fatal. The same paradox can be said for fire. Same with nature herself.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      I have been practicing using paradox prayers throughout my days:
      Even though the air is harmful, God, you still love me.
      Even though the air is harmful, God, you still give me breath.
      Even though the air is harmful, God, I trust you.
      This prayer practice (given to me by my spiritual director) is helping not just hold the tension between two realities, but somehow unite them into one.

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I’m still wrapping my mind around Friedman’s use of “self-differentiated.” It seems to be what you’re describing in the last paragraph. Am I getting that right?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Shawn,
      Check out page 183 in Failure of Nerve to see a breakdown of differentiation. Maybe that will help. But yes, the fire marshal had the ability to remain differentiated during a very emotionally charged situation.

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