Resiliency Lessons From The Chilean Mine Triumph

by Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE
(Dana Point)

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 anyone can learn.

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 sent 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 that they found 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 of becoming better and stronger through this ordeal.

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

© 2010, McDargh Communications. Publication rights granted to all venues so long as article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links are made live.

To get your own booster shot of resiliency and strength read "The Resilient Spirit" by Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE and listen to her free "Resiliency Minutes". Eileen is an award-winning business author, a consultant to national and international organizations, a keynote speaker and a skilled facilitator/moderator. Visit to hire Eileen to help build resiliency in your organization.

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