Never Sleeps: Learning and Living with Chaos

Recently I came across The Devil Never Sleeps by Juliette Kayyem. This is an urgent and transformative guide to dealing with disasters from one of today’s foremost thinkers in crisis management.

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The future may still be unpredictable, but nowadays, disasters are not. We live in a time of constant, consistent catastrophe, where things more often go wrong than they go right. She asks, “So why do we still fumble when disaster hits? Why are we always one step behind?”

In The Devil Never Sleeps, Kayyem lays the groundwork for a new approach to dealing with disasters. Presenting the basic themes of crisis management, she amends the principles we rely on far too easily. Instead, she offers us a new framework to anticipate the “devil’s” inevitable return, highlighting the leadership deficiencies we need to overcome and the forward thinking we need to harness. It’s no longer about preventing a disaster from occurring, but learning how to use the tools at our disposal to minimize the consequences when it does.

Filled with personal anecdotes and real-life examples from natural disasters like the California wildfires to man-made ones like the Boeing 737 MAX crisis, The Devil Never Sleeps is a guide for governments, businesses, and individuals alike on how to alter our thinking so that we can develop effective strategies in the face of perpetual catastrophe.

When thinking about these ideas I found myself going back to my favorite earworm by the Shira Choir. I dare you to listen to Im HaShem LoYivneh Bayit without singing it all week.

The lyrics come from two verse in Psalms. There we read:

אם-השם, לא-יבנה בית–    שוא עמלו בוניו בו
אם-השם לא-ישמור-עיר,    שוא שקד שומר הנה לא-ינום, ולא יישן–    שומר, ישראל

If the Lord did not build the house, they labor in vain that they build it
If the Lord did not keep the city, the watchman are awake in vain (Psalm 127:1)

Behold, God the protector of Israel does not rest or sleep  (Pslam 121:4)

If we want to be agents of good we need better systems to protect human life. And at the same time we must understand our limitations. Kayyem’s depiction of a Devil not sleeping to cause evil is similar to the Psalms’ depiction of a God that “does not rest or sleep” to protect us. Ignoring the predictability of the Devil, or relying blindly on God to watch over us, both do not set us up for success. We need to prepare for disasters before they happen. This needs a different kind of leadership.

I was thinking of this when reading Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read, ” See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse.” Leadership needs the vision to understand proactively the implications of choices. We have blessings and curses in front of us. Will we choose the blessing of being agents of a watchful sleepless protector, or try to ignore the Devil at our peril? This kind of work and this mode of leadership is truly divine.

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