It was 1974 and I was working on the border of the Sahara
desert in the West African nation of Niger as Director for
a relief agency. There was a terrible drought underway and
great numbers of people were suffering terribly. By the tens
of thousands, they traveled by foot for hundreds of miles
to reach the refugee camps. They were exhausted, starving,
and many were near death, especially the elderly and the children.
One of my first tasks as the new Director was to visit those
camps where our agency was active.
At the first camp, I met a nurse who was responsible for providing
medical assistance to the 35,000 refugees who had arrived
and the hundreds of others arriving every day. She was shocked
by their health status and the enormity of the task ahead
of her, but she had gone right to work. It was a huge responsibility
to put a system into place with grossly inadequate resources
while living in the midst of starving people. Getting her
the resources she needed was at the top of my priority list,
but she had done wonders with what she had. She didn't surrender
to the emotions that battered her every day. She focused on
what she had and she worked with it.
A few days later, I was sitting in a tent at another camp
with another nurse. Her camp was similar and she faced the
same tragic situation as the first nurse. Tears streaming
down her face, she told me she had to leave, she just couldn't
deal with it. She knew there would be no one to replace her
for some weeks and she knew she was desperately needed, but
she couldn't believe that she could help anyone under the
circumstances. Her emotions were completely in control and
she was close to a breakdown. I made arrangements for her
departure and thanked her sincerely for all she had done in
the weeks before.
As we pass through life, we inevitably face personal and professional
crises. We usually feel inadequate and in danger of failure.
If we didn't, it wouldn't be a "crisis", would it? These crises
may not be as dramatic as the one described above, but each
in its own way is just as frightening to us at the moment
we face it. Just like the two nurses mentioned, we choose
how to use our emotions in a time of crisis. One nurse put
her emotions aside, took inventory of what she had, and decided
to do what she could until more help arrived. Then she used
her emotions to drive her work. The other drowned in her emotions,
dismissed the resources she had available as inadequate, and
gave up. Her emotions destroyed her work.
If you're facing a real crisis, you're bound to be emotional.
But no matter how limited they may seem; you have resources.
You're alive, you're intelligent, you have access to the Internet,
and you're reading this essay in your search for additional
resources, just for starters. You have a choice. You can put
your emotions aside, take the resources you have, plan a course
of action, and then use your emotions to support your plan.
Or you can drown in your own emotions, never have a plan,
and give up.
One very important purpose of this site is to convince you,
if you need convincing, that the first approach is the one
I have a final story to share. One of those nurses was American,
the other Canadian. It is not important as to who was what,
but they both were blessed with resources. There was a third
nurse too, an African nurse who worked in a tiny, hot, mud
brick building in a town near the first camp I mentioned.
She hadn't been paid her salary in months, as her government
agency was effectively bankrupt. She had no drugs, no bandages,
and no resources other than a desk, a table, some chairs,
and an ancient filing cabinet. The last time she had received
supplies a month before, they amounted to one bottle of ninety
aspirin. That was it. Can you imagine what that must have
been like, week after week, month after month?
But she was there every day and had a reputation for doing
amazing things to find some way to help the sick that came
to her. She begged without shame from anyone who could help.
She collected rags for bandaging. She never deserted her patients.
They said that even when someone died in her office, she didn't
desert them. She saw to it that their families were found
and their bodies returned.
I had heard this and was determined that she would benefit
from our resources, although she was officially outside our
program. I will not forget walking into her tiny office that
day 27 years ago. She saw what was obviously a "rich foreigner",
stood up, broke into a warm smile, and said, "How can I help
We can use our emotions to move forward, no matter how desperate
the crisis. We don't have to drown in them. It's our choice.
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