Friday, January 06, 2006
What the West Virginia Sago Miners Can Teach Us
I have been thinking a lot this week about the disaster at the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia. I grew in West Virginia. My grandfather was a coal company doctor for a time, and my wife's grandfather worked in the mines. So this tragedy has weighed heavily on my mind.
Let's think about what happened. There is a lot of talk and fingerpointing about the mining company and its numerous safety violations. And maybe the company's actions did contribute to the accident, although that is not yet determined. If the company did contribute to the accident, I hope it pays through the nose for it.
But what about the miners?
There they were, trapped underground, knowing they might well die, and what did they do? Some of them left notes to comfort their families. That is truly remarkable. They thought first and foremost about those they were leaving behind. Even as they faced the end of their lives, they put others before themselves.
I have spent my professional career in the white collar world of law firms and law schools--about as far from a life in the mines as you can get. And yet there is a commonality here. As a professor, I strive to instill my students with a sense of mission and meaning about their careers. Lawyers are in a service profession, so serve. Put other people before yourself.
The Sago miners bring that message home in spades. The notes they left were magnificent acts of courage and compassion that move me profoundly. And they teach us all a good lesson--not about how to die, but rather about how to live.