Living in Emergency (2010) offers a sobering view of the lives of physicians and surgeons working with Doctors Without Borders in Monrovia, Liberia after the end of their civil war, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the Second Congo War, where 5.4 million people were killed.
Rather than glorifying the doctors and the amazing work they do, the documentary reveals the extreme stress they encountered as they treated wounds of violence as well as diseases that became acute conditions as a result of lack of health care. Their work is vital. Two billion people worldwide are without access to essential medical services.
While watching the documentary, I thought of the hero and heroine qualities of self-sacrifice and the willingness to endure profound hardship for the sake of others. Whereas they all seemingly were “following their bliss,” as Joseph Campbell is known to have characterized the hero’s journey, they also lived by Campbell’s less-quoted characterization of the hero archetype, which is a potential in all of us:
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”
It was the capacity to ignore their individual needs in the commitment to securing another person’s survival that was so extraordinary — and universal — about these doctors.
I noted some other traits that I saw as common to the documentary’s heroes and heroines, which perhaps apply to all of us when we are living from the hero and heroine archetype:
• The capacity to live with — and learn from — wrong decisions
• The capacity to stay committed, even when the situation you are in does not make sense, or perhaps even seems a bit crazy
• The ability to accept the split between the conditions that exist and the conditions that you wish were existing — or perhaps could exist in a more ideal setting
• The ability to live with self-doubt
• The capacity to hold cautious optimism
• The practice of learning in action
• The ability to accept that working hard at times may not be a choice, but rather a necessity
• Having a tough skin and a gentle heart
• Having a strong sense of justice
• Courage as it is exemplified by feeling the fear and acting anyway
You can view Living in Emergency on Netflix or buy it on Amazon. But be forewarned: some of the images are pretty graphic.
© 2010 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).