The Energizer

Resilient Insights for Work & Life


by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Monday, May 11, 2020
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Four years ago, disaster enclosed 33 miners in a cave in Chile. It struck me that their 69 days of being unable to get out and not knowing their fate, might prove instructive for of us today. I’m hearing people complain about physical distancing, whine about an absence of group activities, decry the closing of movie theaters, and grouse about being bored.

Perhaps we could take some hints from the miners about how to respond to our current situation. Perhaps we might also rejoice that we can see daylight, hear the birds, eat food every day, and visit with family and friends thru technology. In comparison, what we are being asked to do is not that hard!

Resiliency Lessons From Chilean Mine Triumph

A worldwide web of viewers watched 33 miners being pulled to the surface following a 600,000 ton cave-in that happened nearly one-half mile below the ground on a barren plain in southern Chile. Besides showcasing the tenacity of rescuers and the miracle of technology, the miners themselves offer dramatic lessons in resiliency that can teach everyone.

Lesson one: Hope relies on possibility not certainty. Shift foreman Luis Urzua practiced intelligent optimism when he reframed the event and steadfastly refused to give up. He maintained his leadership position and convinced the miners to eat only every 48 hours for 17 days. Without optimism, it could have been anarchy in that dark hole. When the probe reached the men, Urzua’s note that came to the surface expressed that hope: “We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us.” This is not a note of desperation but one of optimism.

Lesson two: Action is the antidote to anxiety. The miners stayed busy, continually clearing away rubble, monitoring gas levels, praying, and using the materials and medicine that eventually were sent down the shafts. In short, they controlled what they could control.

Lesson three: Play to your strengths. Reports indicate that different men served different roles. Victor Rojas kept a journal throughout the ordeal and became the writer who said updates to the rescuers. Yonni Rojas used his experience in nursing to serve as the chief paramedic. Mario Heredia and Jose Gonzalez became the spiritual leaders, with Mario even requesting that a crucifix be sent down so he could erect a shrine. Edison Villaroel led the group in song, requesting that Elvis Presley songs be sent down. Imagine Elvis the Pelvis gyrating more than a half-mile into the earth!

Lesson four: Laughter lightens the load. Surely bringing a load of rocks to the surface as a memento for rescuers showed a sense of humor. Sing-alongs, as described by reporters, did not appear to be funeral dirges.

Lesson five: Faith can move mountains. Many of these miners expressed a deep religious conviction through their Catholic faith. Faith, however, is not the sole property of one religious group. To have a sense of a power beyond one’s human limitations is to tap into a wellspring of confidence and courage.

Lesson six: Don’t bounce back. Grow through. After 69 days, many of the miners expressed finding another side to themselves and their lives. Changed men rose from the earth, men who vowed to live differently. Whether marrying a long-time girl friend, finding new comfort in family, or advocating for changes in mining operations, each of the 33 now have the possibility for becoming better through this ordeal. 

So it is for all who face events that might seem as dark and crushing as what happened on a cold day in Copiapó, Chile. The lessons offered by 33 miners might spark a chord to help many discover personal resiliency.

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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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