Deciding Times: Crisis Untangled

Wednesday Word of the Week from SREDA’s resident word nerd, Catherine Hynes

The world is currently experiencing a public health crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic. As governments across the globe try to limit the spread of the virus, an economic crisis is also occurring. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have sought employment insurance and many businesses are unsure of how to weather the storm. These two crises are challenging us locally as well as nationally and internationally.

Today, we use the word crisis to describe emergencies, disasters and other difficult times—like COVID-19. But originally, the word meant “the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever” ( A crisis was a decisive moment where patients would either improve or experience worsening symptoms.

As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, this feels especially relevant. Not just because we as a society are experiencing the largest public health issue in decades, but because the word shows our power as a community. We are being told to stay home, to practice physical distancing and to do our part in flattening the curve as the virus spreads.

A patient in ancient Greece, where the word crisis originated, may have encountered a crisis in how they responded to a fever alone. But we are now experiencing that crisis, that turning point, as a community. We can decide to do our part, as we’ve been urged to do by the Public Health Agency of Canada. We can decide to phone and check in on our neighbours, friends and family. We can decide to support local businesses as they adapt to the social distancing economy. We can decide not to face this unprecedented challenge alone.

If a crisis is indeed a turning point, we can decide what we are turning towards.