“Laugh at everything, smile, give, do, breathe, and be able to go into a 60sec soul in the midst of chaos, uncertainty and conflict” - Jerry White.
A Nobel Laureate, Professor of Practice at the University of Virginia, President of JW Impact Strategies, with prior experience as the Deputy Assistant Secretary at the United State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, Assistant Director at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, as well as the Founder of Landmine Survivors Network, Jerry White is an explorer at heart, with a spiritual soul. He encountered a life-changing moment when he was out hiking with his friends in his formative years, a moment that led him to make such a difference on a global scale that it resulted in him becoming a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.
In yet another enthralling conversation under the “Become the best version of yourself” webinar series hosted by the SOIL Institute of Management, their Founder and Chairman Anil Sachdev engaged in a nostalgic and exhilarating conversation with Jerry, who goes back in time to share his life story - the before and after moment of a landmine explosion where he had an epiphany on his life’s purpose - talks about the five elements key to the art of survivorship, and emphasizes why we need to become mini-Mandelas in our endeavors to overcome crisis and disaster.
Read on for highlights from the conversation.
From pain to purpose
Jerry goes back to a moment in time, a moment that he recalls as possibly the happiest moment of his life, only to be followed by him having his limb blown off in an explosion in the immediate next second, when unknowingly he and his friends entered a dormant minefield.
In the silence that he experienced in the moments immediately after the explosion, as his friends tried to reach out to him safely, Jerry says he had an epiphany, he sensed a feeling that communicated to him that this isn’t how he crosses over to the other side, that there was a purpose to what happened, and that he will make it out alive, and he and his friends did make it out alive. “Prophecy and truth don’t need to be defended, they just come true,” noted Jerry.
After the incident, he spent six months in a hospital undergoing rehabilitation and learning to walk on an artificial leg. After a brief pause, he described how he struggled with the physical pain of both being hurt and the pain that the treatment brought with itself. In an effort to become tolerant or resilient to pain, he adapted a mindset that encouraged him to believe - ‘This too shall pass’.
“Everything changes, nothing stays the same. Even in the face of pain, which can be unpleasant, that’s just another fact. Nothing stays the same.”
Influenced by his mother’s passion for social justice and marrying that with the epiphany he had post the explosion, his life work shaped the lives of many survivors who made it out of similar accidents. An integral member of the international campaign that eventually led to the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty, he was able to combine his knowledge on security and his personal experience to protect innocent lives that as he says are ‘blown in conflict’.
In his experience of working with over 1,200 organizations and some of his own heroes, Jerry recalls his experience working with Princess Diana on the Landmine Ban Treaty. He shared the impact of the conversation with Princess Diana on him, while fondly remembering her gift of compassion and her ‘trauma intelligence’ - being able to identify and get through to someone who had experienced trauma and was depressed. Being in the vicinity of Princess Diana, he was inspired to let his gift and purpose grow. “Don’t manage this gift, let it breathe and give it room to fly.”
Through his work in the humanitarian space, and his friends and survivors, around the world, he also learnt about ‘survivorship’. “The art of living dynamically and positively in the face of death, disaster, disease, disability and crisis,” as he phrased it.
Addressing the COVID crisis and how the human race can combat the uncertainties and challenges brought on by the pandemic, Jerry said, “No messiahs or Mandelas are coming to get us post-COVID. It is us, we are the transformers. We are in it together, and together collectively as mini-Mandelas we will rebuild an ecosystem that is flourishing.”
‘This is not a time for answers, this is a time to press a big reset’
With individuals, organizations, nations across the globe looking for answers on how to sustain life, business and economy through these unprecedented times, Jerry urges everyone to not look for answers. “This is not a time for answers. This is a time to press a big reset and ask new questions.”
Having worked with over a thousand amputees and war victims in more than 60 countries all over the world, Jerry throws light on his journey of learning the wisdom of survivorship and the dangers of victimhood. “When crisis visits your life, there are ways to handle it. When we get stuck in victimhood, we live in the past, something we should be careful of.”
Taking lessons from his conversations with survivors and his own experience, he shares five ways to deal with the explosions life throws your way:
- Face facts: After the occurrence of an unpleasant or life-altering event, Jerry recommends accepting that ‘something awful has happened, you cannot control it.’ He urges to also acknowledge fears and emotions as facts.
“The first step in the recipe for resilience is that one must actually face the hard facts and you may hate them and they might be highly inconvenient, but life will never be the same.”
Relating the belief that nothing will stay the same post-COVID to Princess Diana’s perspective on trauma being a before and after moment, he concurred, ‘2020 is a before and after moment for the planet.’
- Choose life: “Realizing that you are more than this moment and that everything will change, and transmute and transfigure,” said Jerry, enables one to be cognizant of the fact that they are more than the feelings and facts of the moment, that they can choose life over the fear of coming to an end, only to realize that they have a purpose. He noted here that people with a spiritual bent of mind have a competitive advantage in survivorship and in building resilience, “because you make meaning, make a message to have a purpose. In choosing life, you experience a moment of creating meaning and hope.”
- You must reach out: “No one survives alone in crisis,” emphasized Jerry. He shared that while one might be feeling alone, one is never really alone. “Energies and living beings are all around, we think we are separated, but we need to reach out even more,” said Jerry urging everyone to reach out and stay connected, especially in uncertain circumstances like the present.
- Get moving: In this segment, Jerry insisted individuals to step out from a state of inertia into action. “You have to do things.” While crisis tends to put one into momentary inaction as they get themselves together, it is essential that after that initial pause that’s essential to reset, one must act upon ideas and suggestions to leap out of the crisis.
- Give back: “The secret sauce of thriving in the face of disaster and death and disability,” said Jerry is giving back.
“This is what we are wired for. Altruism. Little acts of giving back, smile, a kind word, a visit, a thought, a text. These are little, small acts of paying forward or giving back, that are also transformative.”
The magnitude and aftermath of the COVID crisis has sure left people all over the world scrambling for answers, to make a frail but hopeful jump from crisis to recovery. While the grave circumstances led to individuals all over the world being pulled into the confines of their homes with rare and only essential occasions to step out, Jerry’s suggestion is a refreshing approach to assess the situation.
Instead of making home within victimhood and hoping to find answers, one might want to instead ask the right questions, unite amid uncertainty, face the facts and get moving on the bandwagon of survivorship.