Sandy Says: Are the Miners in Chile Grateful Enough?

I find the backlash against the Chilean miners baffling. What happened to them is a big deal.

As I watched the last of the 33 miners rescued from the mine in northern Chile hug his wife, I cried. For me, the rescue of the miners was a triumph of perseverance, bravery, hope, modern technology, enduring friendship and collaboration.

For the first 17 days, there was no communication between the miners and the outside world. During that time, the miners managed to ration 2 days' worth of food and, sitting in the 90-degree dark, never gave up hope that their coworkers and loved ones would search for them. That all the miners were rescued was, to me, a miracle, and we don't see those often.

“So many of us face stresses like illness, injury, economic crisis, loss of employment, loss of home, which in turn mean a loss of our sense of predictability and control and a loss of the everyday routines that give our lives meaning,” said Michael Poulin, Ph.D., University at Buffalo assistant professor of psychology and an expert on human response to stress and adversity.

“The miners' lives also were disrupted in a terrifying and unexpected way,” Poulin added, “but even in this frightening new environment, they set out to create new routines, sleeping in shifts, and devising a schedule for doing what needed to be done, such as moving rock and earth displaced by the drilling. They adopted new roles — one miner, for instance, took on the role of spiritual advisor, one was the medic and so on.”

A couple of days after the Chilean miners were rescued, I had a conversation with an acquaintance about their ordeal. He asked me what I do for a living and I used our reporting of the rescue as an example of the types of topics we cover in the magazine and online.

His response — and he's someone seeking a Ph.D. in non-profit management who I thought would be sympathetic to the miners and their situation — actually struck me dumb. His response was, “Do people here care about that? I don't have any sympathy for them. They're trying to make money.”

After I picked my jaw off the floor, I explained that they had been trapped a half-mile underground for 69 days and survived. This was A MIRACLE, I insisted, and that's why people should care about them. (I was on my soapbox, so I also said that people should care about the thousands of workers who die in relative obscurity in this country every year.) I think he finally agreed with me to shut me up.

Apparently, others share his opinion that the miners are milking their 15 minutes (or 69 days) of fame. In response to an article on our Web site titled, “Their Shift is Over: Chilean Miners Rescued,” one reader asked if they were going to receive overtime while another commented, “I understand that a mining operation executive is giving them each $10,000 for their troubles. Considering they were making about $350 per month, I think they've been compensated well!”

I guess all things are relative. I don't live in Chile and I don't earn $350 per month. Truth be told, I pay nearly that amount to PARK MY CAR in the office building where I work. I live in a country where someone like Paris Hilton gets paid for being Paris Hilton and someone else wins hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit settlement because she spilled hot coffee on her lap from a cup clearly marked “Caution: Coffee is hot!” I live in a country where some friends made a documentary titled “American Cannibal” in which real contestants on a reality show were told they might have to eat human flesh to survive on a deserted island and most agreed to do it. In my world, $10,000, $100,000 or $1 million wouldn't begin to compensate me for being trapped for 69 days in what very well could have turned out to be my coffin.

Which is why I don't understand why the people in my country seem to think that because the miners have asked for money to share their story, they are ingrates and undeserving of compensation or respect. If I had the money, I'd give them $1 million each, simply because they are living, breathing miracles who restored my belief in the power of hope and the value of friendship.


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