CRISIS REVEALS CHARACTER

During my travels in the Soviet Union, the outright arrogance of the Soviet leadership occasionally caught me totally off-guard. One of the favorite sayings leveled at me was “Nothing ever goes wrong here, because nothing ever can go wrong here.” If one of their five-year economic plans failed miserably, or there was a costly industrial accident, an ingenious cover-up was promoted, but never an admission of a mistake That historic attitude spawned an international catastrophe in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.

The disaster took place during a systems test on April 26 when, due to faulty design and inappropriate and inefficient actions of the nuclear staff, an explosion and fire released immeasurable quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere. The majority of the heavy fallout landed directly in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia; the rest was spread throughout the USSR and Europe.

Some reports indicate that the Soviet authorities in control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant tried to cover up the whole episode. They apparently failed to warn plant workers of what was happening. Military personnel and emergency workers who were sent in to control and clean up the mess weren’t informed of the risks, and government officials delayed evacuating thousands of residents in Pripyat and other contaminated areas surrounding the reactor. The Soviet government was also slow to admit to the world that an accident had occurred. 

More than one hundred emergency workers died from radiation exposure following the Chernobyl disaster, but the long-term health impact and future death toll is impossible to calculate. The World Health Organization has estimated that an additional four thousand people from the highest-risk groups of emergency workers and civilians could eventually die from the lifelong effects of radiation. Long-term studies have also shown that survivors have an increased risk of certain types of cancer, particularly those who were children or teenagers at the time of the accident.

In June of 1996, I had a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, with a military commander named Peter Ivanovitsch. He had been a Soviet army commander in Afghanistan in 1986. On April 27, 1986, he was ordered to take 2,900 of his men into Chernobyl to help. When he returned from Chernobyl, they noticed that they were all getting sick, but the Communist government said it was impossible that their sickness had anything to do with Chernobyl, and officials dismissed their concerns. Soon, many of Peter’s men began to die. They organized themselves not only to try to help the invalids left alive after the disaster but also to bring food and aid to the families of the rescuers who had already died.

The Communists still refused to help, saying that their claims weren’t valid, even though the men who went in on the rescue attempts were all seriously affected. The majority of the men had died by the time I met with the commander. Peter was enlisting Project C.U.R.E.’s help to supply medical goods for the remaining families. He was forty-three years old, but he knew he had only a very short time to live.

My next meeting that day was with the bishop of the Evangelical Union in Belarus. When the evacuation of Pripyat was taking place, a number of pastors had accepted the challenge to go into the nuclear plant area and minister to the victims. These pastors had faced the oppression of the Soviet leaders in the past and had survived. The bishop had warned them of the high risk involved, but these brave pastors traveled into the areas of heaviest radioactive fallout and ministered to the hurting people. Even though all of the pastors died, they were the ones who displayed true strength of character in the midst of crisis.

Common logic would have us believe that character is developed in times of crisis. I doubt that. Very little character was being developed by the Soviet leadership during the Chernobyl disaster. We may also be tempted to say that in a time of crisis, we’ll rise to the occasion. . . . Probably not, unless we’ve been consistently developing strength of character before a crisis happens.

Pressure proves the product . . . Crisis simply reveals the character.


DELAYED GRATIFICATION

The one thing we know about instant gratification is that we can’t quite experience it soon enough. Our culture seems to claim a birthright for instant and lavish gratification. Delayed gratification, however, is one of the keys to cultural well-being. Overcoming the demand for instant gratification is necessary for healthy achievement and fulfillment on a personal level as well as a cultural level.

We can experience a world of difference when we’re no longer addicted to indulging in instant gratification on our way to a larger and more meaningful reward. Delayed gratification can be thought of as instant gratification saved and leveraged for later usage. When gratification is delayed, we are indirectly saying that we can handle the lack of a reward now, and that we’re confident of the benefits that will be coming our way later on. That confidence involves informing our minds, emotions, and will that it’s worth persevering toward the greater goal even at the expense of immediate gratification.

I witnessed one of the most impressive examples of the principle of delayed gratification in Africa while on a safari in the Masai Mara of Kenya. At the break of dawn, my companions and I quickly gulped our coffee and loaded into the game van to shoot some photos of the magnificent birds and animals of the Mara during their early morning activities.

Almost immediately upon leaving camp, we began seeing hundreds of wildebeests, Thomson’s gazelles, warthogs, zebras, impala, topi, and Cape buffalo. We were even fortunate enough to get some shots of two black rhinoceroses . . . And then came the thrill. We spotted a mature male lion and a young female just returning to their pride following a night of hunting. They encountered a large herd of Cape buffalo beginning their day of grazing. The buffalo had assigned huge male sentinels to the edge of the herd to warn and protect the others.

As we viewed the unfolding drama from our safari van, the male lion carefully stalked the buffalo guard. They paired off staring at each other. The buffalo began to snort and bellow and paw the ground, throwing his head of massive horns from side to side. But the male lion was not to be intimidated. He just began circling the big bull. Meanwhile, the young lioness slowly crept into the scene. Now the buffalo was confused as to which lion he should watch. Several times he bellowed, lowered his head, and charged the male lion. The male lion retreated a few paces as the female crept closer. When she got too close, the buffalo charged at her to move her back. At that moment the male lion attacked the bull from the rear by jumping high onto its tail end. The lion sank his sharp teeth into the bull, ripping the hide and laying open the backbone section about eight inches above the tail. The bull was temporarily paralyzed. 

As quick as lightening, the female was back at the tail with the male, and they each grabbed a jawful of upper vertebrae. The big bull went down, sitting like a dog, unable to move. That allowed for the lions’ unguarded access to the bull. Right then an unusual thing happened. For no apparent reason, the lions backed off and stood looking at the helpless bull, as if to say, “Get up and keep walking around. We have confidence that we’ve got you, but we’ll discipline ourselves and not kill and eat you now. We’ll wait and have fresh, juicy meat at our own discretion.” They escorted the big Cape buffalo over to the thick savanna grass and lay down, one on either side of the bull. They would simply delay their gratification and multiply their enjoyment by postponing their consumption. They didn’t need a refrigerator to keep the meat fresh; all they needed to do was to keep the huge bull alive until they were hungry.

The emotional mastery of impulsive indulgence is also necessary to overcome the majority of personal problems people encounter. Overwhelming debt, crime, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, the breakdown of personal relationships, and the selfish violation of intimate trust all have their roots in the inability to practice delayed gratification. There isn’t a long-term, positive correlation between quick rewards and positive benefits. I personally believe that even in business, the characteristic that best defines an entrepreneur is the ability to utilize the concept of delayed gratification.

In the late sixties and early seventies, Stanford University professor Walter Mischel tested preschool kids on their ability to delay gratification. The children were asked to stay in a room alone for fifteen minutes, and a marshmallow was placed in front of each child. If they waited for fifteen minutes before eating the marshmallow, they were told they would get another one. So they would get a total of two marshmallows.Six of the ten students ate their marshmallows before the designated time, even though they were given a toy to distract them, and only four lasted the fifteen minutes
 
Mischel followed up approximately ten years later and learned that all of the children who were able to delay gratification had good grades, good prospects, and good relationships. Those who had waited to get two marshmallows also scored higher on their SATs than the others. In the study, delayed gratification was associated with adolescents being “more academically and socially competent, verbally fluent, rational, attentive, planful, and able to deal well with frustration and stress” compared to those who opted for instant gratification.

If you’re a business person, a student, a parent, or any other participant in our culture, the subject of delayed gratification merits a second look. Who knows . . . maybe you could end up with even more than one additional marshmallow! 


GRATEFULNESS

A certain excitement and energy gust down through our Colorado mountain canyon as October morphs into November. The golden aspen leaves of autumn skip along the surface of our high-altitude stream in lively funnels of brilliance. The late-afternoon air takes on a crisp and moist character as the nighttime dustings of snow begin to cover the highest mountain peaks. The gorgeous summer flowers are but pleasant memories now. Picnic umbrellas have been put away, and the bright-yellow snowplow blade has been methodically reattached to the ATV. It’s fall in Colorado!

I love the fall, and I love November, because I’m still the kid who loves Thanksgiving. I’ve adopted, and throughout my life I’ve embraced, the idea that it isn’t happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Gratefulness is being thankful for what we’ve received from others. It’s not only a feeling or expression; it’s an attitude. When we receive something and express our appreciation for it, something happens deep within our souls.

Multiple studies have shown that people enjoy some pretty significant health benefits from cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Among the benefits are a happier disposition, less depression and stress, better overall immunity and health, and more satisfaction with life. It appears that grateful people also have an edge on personal growth, have better coping and planning skills, and are more likely to seek out support in difficult times. The grateful people I’ve observed over the years seem to have a clearer purpose in life and enjoy a broader spirit of self-acceptance as well.

They even sleep better because they concentrate on thankful and positive thoughts just before going to sleep, instead of allowing their minds to be filled with disturbing or negative thoughts.

In the course of my travels to so many venues, I’ve observed the practice of gratitude and thanksgiving in many religious traditions. According to the Greek philosopher Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

In the three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, gratitude plays a central role in life and worship. For Christians, gratitude is the heart and soul of the gospel. As Martin Luther said, gratitude is the “basic Christian attitude” that directs thoughts, emotions, and actions.Christians are admonished to express gratitude to God in worship as well as in their lives for all he is and all he has done. Interestingly, the Greek word eucharist means “grateful.” So each time Christians celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection in the eucharist, they’re saying thanks!

According to the Hebrew worldview, God created everything, and in Judaism worship is considered a continual expression of gratitude for his goodness. Gratitude is reflected throughout the book of Psalms, in passages such as “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (Psalm 9:1), as well as in traditional Jewish prayers and blessings, such as the Shema. or orthodox Jews, in particular, reciting blessings, such as the berakhot, is an integral part of daily worship.

The Koran teaches Muslims to express gratitude to Allah for everything. Faithful Muslims who “praise God in prosperity and adversity” will be “the first to be summoned to Paradise.” That’s a pretty strong motivation to be grateful, if you ask me!

One of the most unforgettable lessons I learned about the inner need to express gratefulness occurred when Anna Marie and I visited Brazil. Dr. Casio Amoral and his wife, Vera, ran the best cranial/reconstructive and plastic surgery hospital in the country. After our arrival, Anna Marie and I were ushered into a conference room, where Dr. Amoral and Vera shared the story of their lifelong work and the establishment of the hospital in 1972. We were escorted through the hospital as I performed the customary Needs Assessment Study. At 11:00 a.m., we returned to the conference room with Dr. Amoral and his wife, where we joined a team of twenty staff members for a preoperative session with all the surgical patients for the following week. One at a time, the cases were reviewed, and the doctors handling each case reported the status of the case to Dr. Amoral and made recommendations regarding the upcoming operation.

There was really no way to prepare ourselves for such an experience. I was invited to sit right next to Dr. Amoral during the examination and consultation.Viewing each of the nearly twenty patients was enough to make me cry out. It was very traumatic. The patients ranged from just a few weeks old to their teens. Most of the mothers and patients had perhaps traveled hundreds of miles to get to the hospital that day. They were poor mothers who were typically single, unemployed, indigent, and very frightened.

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The first little girl, age eight, had already undergone ten operations.She still had many, many operations to go. Her hands were completely fused together with her arms in a clump. Many surgeries had already been done on her hands to separate the clumps into fingers and thumbs. Her feet were the same way. But it was her head that was most severely deformed. The next operation was to include a complete cranial restructuring to relieve the constriction on the brain that was causing behavioral and motor problems.

But one mother, who looked very poor, brought in her daughter, Sylvia, who was wearing a large hat, jeans and a T-shirt. Sylvia appeared to be in her early teens. She had many congenital deformities of the face, head, and thorax area. She had received several earlier surgeries, and only recently had Dr. Amoral been able to complete a major operation.

The girl’s mother, an older lady, was sitting next to me. As the doctors began discussing Sylvia’s case, she turned, gripped my forearm, and began speaking directly to me. Her eyes were like sparkling flames, and her words flowed in a steady stream of white-hot emotion. I could literally feel the intensity of emotion build as her speech rose to a crescendo and her grip on my arm tightened. Neither her emotion nor her flow of speech slowed down a bit when they informed her that I couldn’t understand Portuguese. She just kept on talking.

They said she was telling me that her daughter had been so deformed and ugly, but Dr. Amoral had made her pretty. She just couldn’t stop praising the doctor and thanking him. No one could quiet her. I took her by the hand and just smiled. She needed to express her feelings, and she wasn’t concerned whether I spoke English, French, Chinese, or Pig Latin. She needed someone to listen as she expressed her gratefulness, appreciation, and thanksgiving. Her precious daughter was now so beautiful! And with every word of recognition and praise, an uncontrollable flood of happiness and deep joy washed over her. 

I learned a spiritual lesson from that sweet Brazilian lady. Many in the room were embarrassed for the woman, but I simply stood up as she left and kissed her, first on one cheek and then on the other. I had just experienced the unstoppable power of praise and the satisfying gift of gratefulness. 


THE BEAUTY OF LETTING GO

It’s been said that “getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” Our current culture would persuade us that the important thing in this life is to grab, grasp, and accumulate. More is way better. But many are discovering the beauty of letting go. We’re learning that when we hold on too tightly, we can lose everything. The tighter we squeeze the things we’re holding, the quicker they slip right through our fingers, and we lose them anyway.

Of course, there’s an important difference between letting go and giving up. Letting go gives you an opportunity to move forward; giving up drops you clear off the monkey bars.

A very subtle temptation tricks us into thinking that always holding on proves we’re strong. But sometimes, letting go allows us to become the people we really wanted to become all along. In fact, history reveals that some of the world’s greatest battles have been won by those wise enough to let go and take a second strategic look. Alexander Graham Bell observed, “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

It’s especially difficult to let go of something we don’t even realize we’re gripping so tightly. And usually it’s pride that blinds us from recognizing the death grip we’ve applied. So don’t let your pride bully your wisdom into thinking it’s imperative to hold on when it’s actually the right time to let go and move forward. The exciting challenge of life seems to be the fine art of deciding when to hang on and when to let go.

Earlier in my life, I became involved with a local religious institution that later proved not to be a healthy situation for our family. I had to come to a place where I realized that it was prudent to quit allowing the strife and let go of the tension so we could move on with our lives in pursuit of other worthwhile and honorable endeavors. It was one of the best decisions of my life. Great good has come as a result of that choice. I discovered that you can lose only what you’re blindly clinging to, but strategic surrender is certainly not the same as losing. 

Strategically relinquishing our rights in certain situations, and to certain institutions, runs parallel to our relationships with the people who are closest to us. Most of us have heard throughout our lives that if we truly love someone, we’ll let go, rather than clinging on selfishly and possessively, in order to help that person achieve his or her potential. I’ve seen that work with remarkable results.

In 1994, Anna Marie and I witnessed an unusual story of love and relinquishment in Kenya. We were assessing the hospitals around Nairobi and throughout the enchanting Rift Valley. While there, we were invited to stay at Elsamere, the famous home of Joy and George Adamson, located on the shores of the impressive Lake Naivasha. While Joy was alive, she had gained international recognition after writing Born Free in 1960, a book about Elsa the lion that sold more than five million copies. A popular movie telling Elsa’s story was released in 1966 and won two Academy Awards as well as a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture the following year.

In 1956, George Adamson was a game warden for the local African region. He was forced to shoot a lioness that was attacking him, only to find out later that the shooting had left three lion cubs motherless. Two of the cubs were sent to a zoo in Rotterdam, Netherlands, but Joy and George kept Elsa. It was their intention to raise the cub and educate her sufficiently in order to safely release her back into the Masai Mara, but in the process, they fell in love with Elsa. The book reveals the difficulty she and George experienced letting go of Elsa and actually releasing her back into the wild.

But at last, Joy succeeded. With mixed feelings and a breaking heart, she returned her friend back to the jungle, alone. Joy and George then traveled to England for a year before returning to Kenya. They were hoping when they returned that they would find Elsa. They did find her and discovered that she hadn’t forgotten them. In fact, Elsa brought along her three cubs to get acquainted. Elsa became the first lioness to be successfully released back into the wild, the first to have contact after release, and the first known to have cubs. Loving Elsa resulted in setting her free. Love demanded letting go. 


It might be the better part of wisdom to consider the relationships and situations in which you find yourself today. Whether you’re trying to save a lioness or negotiating monkey bars, it just might be that letting go will allow you to move forward.


SKULLDUGGERY IN SOMALIA

It’s imperative that integrity be the cornerstone of any endeavor where everyone is expected to be better off. Napoleon Hill declared, “I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure, unless built upon truth and justice; therefore, I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects.”


I agree with Warren Buffett’s curt advice about employing people:    In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence,  and energy.  But the most important is integrity, because if they don’t have that the other two . . . will kill you.

Integrity is a precious commodity, and when it is compromised or put up for sale in the marketplace of life, the result is always moral and cultural bankruptcy.

Integrity has to do with consistent behavior stemming from a core group of values or virtues. When we speak of someone’s integrity, we often use descriptors like honesty, principles, truthfulness, strength of character, or incorruptibility. Probably the most common descriptor used for the lack of integrity is hypocrisy, because there is an observable disconnect between the projected expectation and the actual behavior.

While working in Somalia in 2001, I was shocked by two glaring examples of the lack of integrity that impacted the culture of that historic nation. The first had to do with the presumption of the citizens that the new president possessed “integrity, intelligence, and energy.” In the early days of his regime, Siad Barre had dreams of unifying the twelve major tribes of Somalia and developing a strong economy by emphasizing national loyalty and pride instead of clan individualities.

He realized he needed outside help and readily fell into the trap of accepting that “help” from the Soviet Union. He swallowed the Marxist-Leninist ideals of Communism and took control of the markets. Those concepts and practices were an irritant to the independent and more entrepreneurial tribal clans of Somalia.

The Soviets came creeping in, wrapping their tentacles around every life-giving artery of Somalia. But when Barre invaded Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviets cut off aid to Somalia and began to channel their military support and supplies to the Ethiopian government. They also brought in thousands of Cuban troops to drive the Somali military out of the country.

At that point, Siad Barre began endearing himself to the United States. He played the Soviets against the US to get his best deal. The US wanted to stop the Soviet expansion throughout Africa, as well as Soviet aggression in Ethiopia, so they agreed to pump millions of dollars of economic aid into Somalia and arm Barre with the latest and most sophisticated military weaponry to protect himself from the Soviets.

After the Soviets pulled out of Somalia in the late seventies, economic growth began taking place. However, Siad Barre became enamored with his own greatness and power, and his regime assumed a cultish personality intolerant of any challenge or criticism. The different Somalian clans resented the regime’s elitist cruelty, but Barre abandoned all thought of unity and resorted to control by pitting the twelve clans against each other. The clan warlords, in turn, began plotting Barre’s assassination. All of that chaos eventually became the setting for the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993.

In the years leading up to this incident, when Siad Barre still wielded power, life in Somalia continued to deteriorate. Wherever there were pockets of discontent, Barre would send his trusted troops to machine-gun down all the livestock herds and throw into prison anyone who might speak out against him. He even sent his men into the northern areas of Somalia to poison the water wells of his own people. Eventually he utilized his military arsenal of bombs, tanks, airplanes, rifles, mortars, and other weapons that the US and Soviet governments had supplied to him and employed them to murder his own people.

In 1988, during a visit to the northern seaport city of Hargeisa (with a population of half a million people), Barre declared that he would punish the people for their disloyalty. He loaded the bombers he had received from the Soviets and the US and deployed them from Hargeisa’s international airport to destroy the buildings, water systems, industries, and homes in an ethnic-cleansing effort.6 Very seldom in history can you find anything as sinister or evil as what President Barre perpetrated upon Somalia. He also strafed and bombed other Somali cities, like Berbera and Burao, and eventually Mogadishu. The entire country of Somalia was left in shambles. 

After twenty-one years of murder, deceit, and skullduggery, Siad Barre foiled an assassination plot and escaped with his money to Kenya and then to Zimbabwe. Finally he died in Nigeria in 1995. Siad Barre had possessed intelligence and energy, but he lacked integrity.

A second glaring example of perfidy and treachery in Somalia included the United Nations. During the genocide, Somali citizens were desperately trying to escape the country as refugees and appealed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for help. Somehow the rampant lack of integrity engulfing Somalia washed over the UN as well. The incident took place while I was in Somalia, and it became a textbook case of “mess up” and disgrace.

The United Nations’ employees who were in charge of filling certain refugee quotas to countries such as Great Britain, Canada, and the United States were charging refugees up to $5,000, or more, in US currency to process their applications and place them in the host countries.8 That money went straight into the pockets of the UN employees. They would make the penniless refugees pay fifty shillings just to get inside the waiting room to talk to a UN individual. It was discovered that UN employees would actually sell false documentation, phony identification papers, and bogus case histories to enable people who weren’t even refugees to “resettle” in the United States. The UN admitted that four staff members were suspected of soliciting money from the displaced persons they were paid handsomely to assist.

UN officials came to the defense of their workers by insisting that they were really the victims in the situation. The UN had been informed for the previous two years of the employees’ scam but claimed that the employees had been placed in very difficult and stressful positions. Outsiders just couldn’t understand the unbearable pressures the employees had been under, or the temptations they had been subjected to when there were thousands of refugees seeking asylum in developed countries, and limited openings in those countries.

Finally, the United Nations directors reassigned the UN workers to locations where the pressure wouldn’t be so “unbearable,” but they made that decision only when some refugees, who had paid $5,000 but were never selected to go to the United States, threatened to kill the extortionists. The UN had to then protect their poor, victimized representatives. No one was held accountable or punished for the bribery scam. The UN employees had intelligence and energy but did not possess integrity.

It really wasn’t safe to go to Somalia when I did. There was no central government, no rule of law, no infrastructure, no civilized politics or security. But the Somali community of Denver had literally begged Project C.U.R.E. to go there with one of their members and assess the medical needs of Somaliland, since the entire healthcare delivery system of the country was broken, and all of the medical facilities had been ransacked, leaving the people without access to medical supplies. We felt that Project C.U.R.E. could significantly improve the healthcare delivery system and greatly influence the everyday lives of Somalia’s people for many years to come.

I was astounded at the absence of integrity I witnessed in Somalia and was reminded of an old Rwandan proverb I had learned in Kigali: You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.

I believe that sometimes we are commissioned to go into dark situations with the match of goodness to rekindle the fire and fan the flame of compromised integrity.


TAKING THE RISK

The very fact that you’re alive tells me that you are encountering risks. It’s been said that “the person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”

We usually describe risk as “a state of uncertainty where some of the possibilities involve a loss, catastrophe, or other undesirable outcome.” Of course, the other side of risk includes the possibility of gaining something of value.

When I was young and starting out in business, I always felt that I could well afford to run the risks of failure, because in failure I really didn’t have that much to lose. I could take the lumps, count the cost, pick up the pieces, and start over again. I didn’t mind going out on a limb because that was where the fruit was growing. My attitude was that if I pushed to the very brink, I would be shown a way to proceed on the ground, or else I would be taught how to fly. After all, how was I to know how far I could go in a venture if I hadn’t run the risk of going too far?

But the more I accumulated, the more the idea of risk became an issue.The more I had to lose, the more seriously I considered my options, choices, and consequences. I learned several times that I was very vulnerable and had a lot to lose. That prompted me to start developing some skills of risk assessment and some practices of risk aversion. I was discovering that in my business dealings, I was developing a risk attitude, and I began measuring my decisions against a rather clumsy gauge of rate of gain versus rate of ruin. Somewhere in the adventure, I was being exposed to concepts like regret and fear of loss.

When I became involved in international business and traveling with Project C.U.R.E., I was glad I had learned some things about risk taking.There were situations in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Palestine, Russia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and even Kenya where the risks involved my very life and safety. God’s protection, some carefully made decisions, and the help of many friends in more than 150 countries averted the serious consequences of some of those perilous risks.

In one of my Project C.U.R.E. offices, I had a map of the world affixed to the wall. One day I made a statement to the people visiting me: “If you were to stand on this side of the room and throw a dart at the map, provided the dart didn’t land on water or snow, within a three-inch radius of the dart, I would have a friend who would be willing to risk his or her life to help me out of danger.”

That was a rather audacious statement, I know. But it was based on the fact that I had worked in nearly every corner of the world, and the unusually positive influence of Project C.U.R.E. had enabled me to develop many deep-rooted relationships with people who would have put themselves in harm’s way to come to my rescue.

Taking a risk is an interesting concept. It includes the possibility of loss or injury, or at least the inconvenience of an imposing circumstance.And there is a notion that choice has something to do with whether or not the outcome is altered. Risk taking can get complicated. The consequences of my risks can splash over onto other people around me and affect their lives and well-being. We’re hardly ever isolated, stand-alone objects in situations that include risks.The events set into motion by our choices, as well as the eventual consequences, will usually invade the lifestyles of our families and friends.

As I’ve reflected on my statement regarding the map in my office, I realize that there would be no need for someone to come and help me were I not involved in a high-risk circumstance. The willingness of my friends to come to my rescue would imply that they would be placing themselves in a risk-taking situation because I was already in trouble. 

Our culture teaches us to seek safety and security, but as Mark Twain used to say, “Necessity is the mother of taking chances.”  And I am in theologian Paul Tillich’s corner when he observed, “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”

I personally believe that no noble thing can be accomplished without taking risks, and ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they’re encouraged to be confident, to stand tall, and to fully engage those calculated risks.  


THE MAIN THING

Steven R. Covey offered some of the best advice available when he said that “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

As a cultural economist, I deal continuously with the economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost. Everything that exists is a scarce commodity. That isn’t to say that there is an immediate shortage of something or that something is “as scarce as hen’s teeth”—because there aren’t any hen’s teeth. But something is deemed scarce because everything that exists has alternative uses. People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources. Scarcity is called the “basic economic problem,” meaning that the problem always exists.

Ultimately, a choice has to be made to determine how a resource will be used. We have to choose the alternative we most highly desire. Sometimes we may think that cost deals only with dollars and cents. But in a truer sense, the cost of the alternative we choose is the loss of the value of the next highest alternative we forgo in making our choice. In other words, the real cost is the value of the alternative we could have had but decided to do without.

When we say that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” we’re dealing with the subject of priorities, which is the arrangement of precedence and preference regarding certain resources, supplies, or services. We first have to decide what the main thing is?  Then we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.

Consistent priority ranking is a difficult assignment on a personal basis. It’s an even tougher assignment on an international and cultural basis. Let me illustrate this from my travel journals: 


      Shortly after the tragic genocide situation in Rwanda, I traveled in a Volkswagen van from Kampala, Uganda, to Kigali, Rwanda. There had been nearly one million people murdered in the short span of one hundred days during the Hutu-Tutsi slaughter. It was one of the most heart-breaking incidents I had experienced in over thirty years of international travel. Limbs of dead bodies still protruded out of shallow graves. The economy was in shambles, and all was chaos. For the most part, the world totally ignored the tragedy and even the UN and the US refused to use the word “genocide” and chose not to send help. Project C.U.R.E. went there to help. 

    Upon my arrival in Kigali, I met with a lady named Christine. She was in her thirties, very knowledgeable and articulate, and was in charge of administering the offices of the cabinet members. She was openly supportive and appreciative of Project C.U.R.E., and I presented to her the inventory list of the cargo container from Project C.U.R.E. that had just arrived. She took the time to brief me on the genocide situation and I asked her if she had stayed in the country or fled to another country.  She said that she had stayed in Kigali, and had witnessed the bloody attacks on the innocent citizens.  

    Christine also acted as the minister of rehabilitation and social in­tegration.  She asked about crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetic equipment for those who had been left disabled by the war. They were in desperate need, and no one else was coming to their aid. Almost a million people had been murdered, and there were hundreds of thousands of other suffering human victims.
 
     I expressed my surprise that others were not quickly coming to their aid: “While I have been in Kigali, I’ve seen scores of new, white Toyota Land Cruisers and new Land Rovers driving the streets of the city with the fanciest and newest of optional equipment added on. I’ve seen many NGO (nongovernmental organization) personnel sitting and conversing in the restaurants of Kigali. I just presumed that all those resources had arrived in Rwanda to aid in the horrible genocide crisis.” 
 
     Christine hesitated, then turned and looked out the window. “I’m sorry you saw that. No, those new resources and personnel are not here to bring help to the victims of the genocide. They’ve come as a result of a new grant of over fifty million dollars to further the ongoing study of the eating, mating, and sleeping habits of the gorillas in our forests. I wish there were some way to get our priorities straight.” 

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Keeping the main thing the main thing sometimes becomes a knotty problem. As I mentioned earlier, we’re the ones that ultimately have to make the decisions regarding the arrangement of precedence and preference of all resources, supplies, or services.

People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources can supply. But the old economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost can help us remember this advice: We first have to decide what the main thing is and then, we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.


 


 

THE WHY OF PROJECT C.U.R.E. (Part 2)

(Nigeria, Africa Journal: November, 2000): Featuring Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, a couple of years ago turned out to be a great hit, and I knew the emphasis on Ethiopia and Project C.U.R.E.’s work there would likewise be a winner.

But no one from Ethiopia could break away to travel to Denver to speak at the banquet. Their political situation with Eritrea is tenuous enough that the leadership has been forced to stay very close to home. So the banquet committee volunteered me to speak for the event. I protested the prospect of speaking for a couple of reasons. First, I preferred continuing the tradition of having an international speaker for the event to give the occasion a little global importance and credibility. Second, we’ve been trying to broaden the leadership base of Project C.U.R.E. so that the identity and emphasis of the organization aren’t tied too closely to Jim Jackson.

The more I’m featured or put up front, the less effective we are at portraying the truth that the Project C.U.R.E. phenomenon has very little to do with me and everything to do with the people who have come together to carry out the mission of saving lives around the world through medical donations. To feature me as speaker, in my opinion, would mean taking some steps backward in our efforts to legitimately display the new levels and personalities of Project C.U.R.E. leadership. Project C.U.R.E. is healthy and strong and has long since grown past me in leadership procedures and position.

In order for Project C.U.R.E. to expand toward excellence in the future, the image and leadership base needs to move forward with lots of new blood.

But I was outvoted, and as I thought and prayed about an approach to take for my speech, it dawned on me that nearly everyone knows by now what Project C.U.R.E. is, what we do, where we do it, and under what circumstances we get involved in humanitarian activities in countries around the world. However, I couldn’t remember a time when I had articulated precisely why Project C.U.R.E. does what it does.

So at the banquet, I disclosed that, in my opinion, there is a true and positive correlation between the success of Project C.U.R.E. and the degree of relinquishment our volunteers and staff members bring to the organization. To explain this concept of relinquishment, I shared with our guests the story of Johnny Appleseed, who trudged across the countryside in the frontier territories of early America. In his grubby leather pouch, he carried apple seeds, knowing full well that one can count the number of seeds in an apple, but one cannot count the number of apples in a seed.

As the legendary frontiersman walked the land, he would take from his pouch the apple seeds, stoop to scoop out some soil, and drop the apple seeds into the earth. He relinquished his rights to his seeds in an on-purpose effort to grow apple trees, which would produce an abundant harvest of apples. Obviously he wouldn’t be there to claim the harvested apples, but he rested in the knowledge that pioneers and pilgrims who would follow him would benefit greatly as they reaped the fruits of his efforts of relinquishment.

I believe that same attitude of relinquishment, with no determined thought of personal return, is the key element in the extraordinary success of Project C.U.R.E.

I went on to explain that the true measure of greatness will always be determined by how well we care for others, not how much we accumulate for ourselves. Our culture places great importance on how high we can heap up wealth to fill the grocery carts of our lives in the shortest amount of time. Those who have the fullest carts at the checkout counter will win the prize. But even though we are programmed to grab things for ourselves, we can never get enough. Therefore, we almost have to go counterculture when we embrace the idea that success comes through giving and not through getting. In that respect, Project C.U.R.E. is counterculture.

The motivation behind our accumulation, I believe, should be the recognized opportunities for distribution, and we need organizations like Project C.U.R.E. as vehicles to allow us to experience such expressions. I challenged our guests to spend at least as much time in their lives on distribution as they do on accumulation. That would be a good place to start.

I expressed that more than likely, our greatest fulfillment in life is achieved through giving. Because what I hoard I can lose, and what I try to keep will be left behind and fought over by others. But what I give will continue to multiply and will forever generate a return—just like the trees Johnny Appleseed planted.

My final challenge to our dinner guests was for all of us to assume a posture of standing on our tiptoes in eager expectation of opportunities to give ourselves away and learn from personal experience in the years we have left the true thrill and satisfaction and joy of relinquishment.

The banquet took place on Saturday, November 18. That day, I experienced another rare thrill and opportunity. My grandson, Jace, is nine years old. He just finished his very first season of playing in an organized football league. Serendipitously, I was invited to bring a guest with me to a Denver Broncos open house and junior training camp at their Dove Valley headquarters. Of course, my chosen guest was Jace. At the open house, the Broncos staff showed us highlight films, fed us lunch, and gave us a complete tour of the Broncos’ workout rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms, classrooms, and practice fields. We even went to the artificial-turf field enclosed in a gigantic fabric air bubble, where the Bronco players and trainers put the fifty or so of us through fundamental drills and patterns.

Jace was absolutely beside himself with excitement. To complete his football dream day, he collected autographs from some of the players and even had his number-30 Broncos jersey personally signed by his football hero Terrell Davis, who wears a number-30 jersey in real life.

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Out in the lobby, a professional photographer took a picture of Jace and his “papa” standing in front of the sterling-silver Vince Lombardi trophies presented to the Denver Broncos when they won their two world-championship Super Bowl victories. Recalling the following Vince Lombardi’s memorable quote really put me in the mood to stand in front of the Project C.U.R.E. crowd at the banquet and talk about relinquishment and changing our world:

After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your own room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.

Maybe it was okay that I had to speak that night.       


THE WHY OF PROJECT C.U.R.E. (Part 1)

(Nigeria, Africa Journal: November, 2000): Just why would I ever agree to go back to Nigeria? I’ve come closer to physical harm and danger in Nigeria than perhaps any other country in my twenty years of international travel. I’ll always hear ringing in my ears the sincere voice of the lady customs official at the airport in Lagos. When the people assigned to pick me up had failed to show, she sternly advised me, “Do not trust anyone here at the Lagos airport—not even me. Those people who are so aggressively soliciting you know you are American. You have what they want, and they will kill you to get it. Do not talk to any of them. Do not give them your name or the names of any of your contacts in Nigeria. Do not exchange money with them, and above all, do not get in a car with them or go any place with them.

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They are here to kidnap and hold you for ransom or, more easily, put you in their car and rob you, and should you try to resist, they will drive out a short distance and kill you, and no one will ever know what happened to you. Back up against that wall with your luggage in front of you and silently wait for your people to come and retrieve you.”

But no one came to pick me up, and I couldn’t buy a plane ticket at the Lagos airport. The customs lady had my full attention. She was the only official at the airport, but she was only an immigration and customs agent. There were plenty of individuals in ragtag, mishmash police or military uniforms. But none were legitimate. They were only scam artists, and their uniforms were merely props to get people to place their confidence in them. In Lagos there is only lawlessness, and everyone has to fend for themselves.

The current travel warnings are the same for this trip as they were for previous trips. The US State Department has warned in effect that violent crimes are perpetrated by ordinary criminals, as well as persons in police and military uniforms.

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 Kidnapping for ransom remains common, especially in the Niger Delta area. The use of public transportation throughout Nigeria is dangerous and should be avoided. Taxis pose risks because of fraudulent or criminal operators and poorly maintained vehicles. Most Nigerian airlines have aging fleets, and there are valid concerns that maintenance and operational procedures may be inadequate to ensure passenger safety.

Just thirty days before this trip, news-wire services reported outbreaks of violence between Nigeria’s two largest tribes. People died in the fighting, and bodies were strewn in the streets of Lagos. I learned that thousands have been killed in ethnic and religious violence since President Olusegun Obasanjo took office last year, ending fifteen years of military rule. The recent clashes broke out between the Hausa tribe from northern Nigeria, who are predominantly Muslims, and the Yoruba tribe from southern Nigeria, who are mostly Christians.

As you may recall from a previous journal entry, God sent an angel named Vera and her husband, Innocent, to rescue me from the dangerous Lagos-airport episode. They made me promise I would return to Nigeria someday and visit them. They are wonderful Christians, and Vera confided to me that God had told her to go to the lobby of the airport and meet a Christian American man who desperately needed help. She was obedient, and I was rescued.

I received perhaps a half-dozen official Request for Assistance forms from needy medical organizations in Nigeria begging Project C.U.R.E. to travel there and perform Needs Assessment Studies at their facilities so they could qualify for help.

I had conveniently filed those requests in my file drawer. Then in June of this year, a letter from Vera and Innocent landed on my desk. At the same time, an urgent plea came to me from the Cecilia Memorial Hospital and Clinic in Imo State, Nigeria. Pastor Leo Emenaha said he had been waiting since February 1998 for Project C.U.R.E. to travel to his hospital and complete the assessment. How much longer would I delay?

I rearranged some other commitments and decided to sandwich the trip between my trip to northeast India, our big Project C.U.R.E. annual fund-raising banquet in Denver, and our annual Christmas brunch on December 9, when Anna Marie and I will host about sixty Project C.U.R.E. guests in our Evergreen home.

I had a strong sense that I should make the trip but approached the travel preparations with the simple conviction that if God really wanted me to travel back to Nigeria before the end of the year, he would have to intervene in working out the details. Pastor Emenaha would have to come up with the funds for the Needs Assessment Study, invitation letters would have to be secured for the Nigerian embassy in Washington, D.C., and the proper visa would have to be obtained for my passport.

Strangely enough, the details of the trip came together over the following weeks. I was scheduled to depart Denver the day after Thanksgiving and return home late at night on December 3. The deadlines were tight, with Doug picking up my returned passport from the Washington, D.C., embassy at the FedEx office in Littleton, Colorado, five minutes before they closed for the Thanksgiving holiday on Wednesday night.

My trip to India just a couple of weeks ago left me pretty exhausted. I think the emotional strain of India itself, plus the nerve-wracking episodes with the military and insurgency fighters in Manipur State, and our efforts to get out of the mess back to Calcutta “wore me slick,” as my friend Jim Claunch used to say. I was very grateful to exit India without serious harm.

Our Project C.U.R.E. banquet at the big Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Denver on November 18 turned out to be a great success and inspiration. Many people expended a lot of time and effort to make the event such a memorable occasion.

We had desperately tried to get the prime minister of Ethiopia or Seeye Abraha, the former commander and chief of the Ethiopia armed forces, to speak at the event. I personally felt that Ethiopia needed a bully pulpit from which to present their survival story to the press and their friends in America. The Project C.U.R.E. venue would have been perfect for such a speech. Furthermore, our medical team just returned from Ethiopia and had some great experiences that would have tied in nicely. Also, we’re currently preparing to send eleven more forty-foot cargo containers of donated medical goods to Ethiopia at a value of about $4.5 to $5 million.

Featuring Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, a couple of years ago turned out to be a great hit, and I knew the emphasis on Ethiopia and Project C.U.R.E.’s work there would likewise be a winner.

But no one from Ethiopia could break away to travel to Denver to speak at the banquet. Their political situation with Eritrea is tenuous enough that the leadership has been forced to stay very close to home.
 
Next Week: SO, WHO IS TO SPEAK?                 


DANGEROUS INDIA (Part 6)

                                                                 NOTICE
               REALLY GOOD NEWS: Winston Crown Publishing House is excitedly working on a total compilation of all of Dr. James W. Jackson’s actual field journals and transition journals 83 – 2008, under the titles of  “ROADS I’VE TRAVELED DELIVERING HEALTH AND HOPE.” This epic undertaking will include twelve separate books containing all the stories, international incidents, colorful individuals, step-by-step growth and progress of Project C.U.R.E., and venues of over 150 countries. . . plus his personal photos. We will keep you updated and informed.

(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): The Needs Assessment Study at the Oking Hospital in Kohima, Nagaland, had to be one of the high points of Project C.U.R.E.’s history. Our hosts told me that Project C.U.R.E. is the first organization from the outside to ever come and help them. As soon as we finished our study at the hospital, Puii and Dr. Thongu asked if we would like a tour of their mountaintop city.

It was about 12:30 p.m. when we arrived at the marketplace. I think if I could just stroll through the Kohima market about noon each day of my life, I would be able to save lots of money otherwise spent for lunches. As we entered the market, Puii reminded me that the Naga people have been highly regarded historically as hunters. That fact was underscored immediately as I spotted dead monkeys offered there for butchering and cooking. Just a few yards away were squirrels hanging by their hind legs, and below them were ordinary small birds for the picking.

On the market table to my left were quarters of small deer cut up but with the hair and hides still on. Then I saw what I didn’t necessarily want to see: short-haired, tan dogs split open from their nostrils to their tails and cleaned and ready for sale. As we moved on through the open market, other exotic scenes jumped out at us. Two older women were kneeling behind their sales table working on a meat product. While I was trying to determine what they were so diligently working on, I almost missed the huge, hairy object lying quite limply on top of the table. It was the entire forearm of a very large black bear. I had Drew hold the heavy arm up so I could take a picture of the prize. One old woman had just managed to sever it from the rest of the huge body, and they were now on the ground skinning out the bear’s body with careful precision so as to perfectly preserve the hide, which would be sold separately.

Having spent a considerable bit of time in Asia, I realized what a prize possession the woman had brought to market. Bear meat is valuable, and except for being a bit greasy, it tastes like pork. But the value of the bear is really in the bones and organs and such things as its paws, claws, and skull. The Asians hold in high respect the medicinal value of spare bear parts as much as they desire deer horns.

Toward the end of the first set of market tables were stacked the displays of nutritious and protein-laden worms. Several different kinds of larvae and worms were available. There were some quite small in size; these worms were taken from the tender part of the bamboo stalks. Then there was another selection of red, caterpillar-type worms about three inches long. Those were very lively. Next to the red worms were several varieties of plump, ivory-colored worms. But the prize objects were the huge insect nests harboring the black-bee larvae. The bees were black only after they had hatched and formed tough shells. The larvae were white, with little yellow mouths. The combs or nests were two to three feet in diameter and were brought to market intact so as not to disturb the wiggling larvae. People buy the nests and take them home quite quickly, because the longer the nests stay at the market, the more the larvae hatch, and then the product has a way of crawling away. Once in the purchaser’s kitchen, the larvae are coaxed out of the nests with prods and tweezers to be prepared for the meal.

As I viewed the huge black-bee nests, my heart and sympathy went out to the poor hunter who had to sneak into the insects’ habitation to steal and carry away the large hives. There had to be some unhappy hornets or war-waging wasps somewhere looking for their offspring.

We walked on past a display of wild boars and snails, big and small. But at the table where they were peddling huge spiders, we stopped and gawked. The vendors fold newspapers into envelopes, then corral about thirty to fifty very large, long-legged spiders, and herd them into the envelope. The spiders were black with yellowish stripes along their bodies. Puii told us how very good and nutritious they are and bought a package of them to take home.

Drew was overjoyed at the thought of eating large spiders for dinner. But as Providence would have it, we were invited to the home of Dr. Thongu’s brother for dinner. He is a high government official in Nagaland, and we thoroughly enjoyed the dinner and hospitality, as well as the opportunity to get acquainted with the official.

Tuesday, November 7–Wednesday, November 8
I woke up Tuesday morning with a smile on my face. Drew and I will be starting our long journey home. Puii wanted to take me out into her lovely greenhouse and show me one more miracle before we left India. “During the dry part of the year, our town of Kohima has problems with fresh-water supplies. But we must have fresh water for our hospital. So, I began to pray for a source of fresh water that would not dry up during the hot, dry months. God showed me a place in my garden where I should dig for a well of fresh water. I dug a hole about twelve feet deep with a shovel, and I suddenly hit a water supply here on the side of our hill.”

Puii showed me the well and the pump and pipes. “The level of water in my well never goes down, even when it gets hot and dry here in Kohima. We pump the water from this well up to large storage tanks. Then we draw water from the storage tanks to take the fresh water to our hospital. I have been doing that for about three years, and we have plenty of fresh water for our hospital.”

Then she added a remarkable twist to the story: “All of our neighbors dug wells when they saw the amount of water we discovered. But even though they’ve gone down to a depth of fifty feet by hand digging, no one else has found water. I believe God put that well in my backyard so we could always have fresh water at our hospital.”

I left the doctor’s home with so much admiration and respect for this Christian couple. Their hard work, discipline, frugality, and absolute confidence and obedience certainly must make God smile everyday!