Tragedy is inevitable. It occurs in many different forms, whether that be a personal loss or an event on a larger scale, such as a natural disaster. Joe Jarret, a lecturer in the department of political science here at UT, went into great detail during a Baker Café discussion on Friday morning about handling the tragedies that occur on both a large and small scale.

Jarret acknowledged that many different types of tragedies occur and that there are many different ways to cope with such incidents.

“Disasters come in a myriad of forms, and tragedy comes in a myriad of forms,” he said.

Jarret also serves as a Tennessee attorney, mediator and arbitrator and previously worked as a county law director in Florida. Jarret is also a former United States Army Armored Cavalry Officer. Because of his professional experiences, he has learned a thing or two about tragedy, as well the best ways to go about handling crisis, destruction and mayhem.

Jarret discussed his time when he was stationed in Germany during the 1980’s. He mentioned that although he knew he was entering a battlefield, himself and his fellow soldiers did not expect to encounter the amount of tragedy that they did. He also explained that coping with such tragedy may be much harder than civilians expect.

“I spent ten years in the military before I went to law school, and it was presumed when you’re in the service you’re used to this. People die. That’s the nature of the beast,” Jarret said.

However, Jarret also explained that different cases call for different ways of approaching tragedy. He encourages leaders to assess tragedy by asking a few questions, such as: What are my people going through? What is my organization going through? What am I going through? And finally, what can I do?

Leadership during a time of tragedy is not easy. There are burdens, as Jarret pointed out. It can take an emotional toll on the leader and create reluctance to participate in workplace activities. There will also be confusion; you might not have enough information on the crisis, people within and outside your organization will want/need/demand to know what is going on and the situation can change rapidly. All of these factors combined can put heavy pressure and stress on the leader.

Jarret explains that there are typically two different modes when tragedy strikes: normal mode and emergency mode. In normal mode, there is time to brainstorm the situation, confer with peers, test alternatives and take time for objective and candid opinions. In a crisis mode, things are much different. Situations are constantly changing. There is no time for discussion, and the stress and pressure is even heavier.

Jarret gives an example of his time working in Florida as a county attorney. When Hurricane Charley hit, he had to work with local and federal authorities in help those in emergency situations, as well as speak to the grieving families who lost loved ones.

As he was recounting his experience, Jarret spoke on the best way to go about such a situation. He states empathizing is perhaps the most important thing to do.

Still, Jarret says that sometimes that might not be enough and offered some tips for such cases.

“It has been my experience that compassionate leadership involves taking some form of public action, however small, that is intended to ease people’s pain,” Jarret said, “and that inspires others to act as well.”

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