What do you put in a business column when events of great sorrow throw market reports and tax policy into the distant background?

Christchurch is my home town.

My focus shifted back there two weeks ago when my mother was unexpectedly diagnosed with an incurable cancer.


I flew straight down to see her in Christchurch Hospital.

Outside, I wandered in a bubble of grief through those tree-lined pathways around Hagley Park.

Unbelievably, just days later that same scenery has become the backdrop for this enormous collective pain.

It's overwhelming and surreal. Grief always is when it strikes.

The mundane nature of the daily life suddenly jars with the enormity of universal questions.

We feel the earth sink beneath our feet as people around us order coffee, queue for buses and go about their business.

Though we all deal with it at some point, it can be a lonely feeling.

And now we share this strange and terrible sadness as a nation.


For all of us, everyday business suddenly seems harder to make sense of.

So this isn't a normal business column.

It's just a thought or two about what we do in our working lives and how we might balance it with the other world we carry in our hearts.

The Christchurch I grew up in was sleepy and isolated from the big events of the world.

Nature shook it from that idyllic anonymity with a seismic jolt.

I recall a sense of helplessness and disbelief after the big earthquake in 2011 as the Herald newsroom went into action around me.

I felt that again this week.

I have great respect for my colleagues who cover these awful events. In my career I did just enough of it to know it was not for me.

For some - the police, emergency services, doctors and nurses – the brutal truth of life and death is just part of the job.

This can be the case for journalists on the front lines too.

I'm there in the drama of a market crash or a hostile company takeover.

No one dies.

There were business and economic stories to be written after the quakes.

There are good business stories being written now too – raising questions about social media company ethics, gun sales and business disruption.

More of these stories need to be written.

But it's never easy, moving on to what can seem like peripheral issues in the face of such suffering and loss.

We're all grappling with it now, whatever our business or trade.

We pick up the phone, we write the emails, we check the stockmarket, we chase the invoices, we hit the targets … we do our jobs.

There's not much else we can do.

And sometimes the simple nature of work can provide a blessed relief from intensity of painful emotions.

But if it's a difficult balancing act at the best of times, it's a precarious high-wire walk at the worst of them.

This seems like the right time to reflect on what really matters - while we are in it all together.

We can't divorce our feelings from our working lives. Life is too short and work is too big a part of it all.

Employers are getting better at understanding that. Compassion aside, the science is clear that happy workers are more loyal, productive workers.

Even compassionate bosses - and thankfully mine are in that bunch - have their jobs to do. We can't look to management for all the answers.

I was going to write that there's no magic formula for getting through this stuff.

But maybe there is.

Deep down we all know what really matters when human tragedy strikes.

I asked my mum if she'd mind me including her in this column.

She said that was ok, but I had to mention family. Not our family specifically; I had to mention the concept of family, the magic of it.

That's what's lifting my mother up and carrying her through this.

It sounds trite, but whoever you call family - it's your people. It's family, friends and love.

It's that simple. We need to ensure there's a little of that magic in the workplace.

That's the source for our empathy and compassion, it's the source of faith and hope and meaning.

It's what makes us human and it's precisely what was lacking in the evil inhumanity of that horrific act in Christchurch.

How do we do business in the face of such great grief?

We do it with these simple foundations in our everyday interactions, through the mundanity of it all.

We can look around us and defy this evil act in tiny moments of inclusion and empathy.

We know the formula.

We just have to remember to use it – not just in the big moments, but at the photocopier and coffee machine, between PowerPoint slides and planning meetings.

Share a quiet sigh and a smile.

Next week I'll be back on to Capital Gains Tax debates, the latest economic data, money and markets.

I write about these things because I want more people to think about them. I want to see people create wealth and open up more choices for their future.

But it's not much of a future if we let fear, anger and hatred win.