One probably doesn’t think too much about contemporary nursing. It is considered a noble and necessary profession but perhaps the only thing anyone really questions is why nurses wear their watches on their chests.
It is done to minimize the risk of infections and is much easier to look down on the chest to see what time it is than to flick the wrist.
But the obvious nursing practices that we all take for granted weren’t always in place. In the Middle Ages, many hospitals were located in churches and monasteries. Nurses would travel from place to place to help, but monks and nuns also took on the role of nursing.
However, when the Reformation happened, these churches, monasteries and the hospitals within were shut down, leaving people with very limited access to healthcare. This went on for about two hundred years.
In the mid-1800s, the Crimean War between the alliance of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France versus Russia was being fought. A group of nurses from Britain was sent to Russia, including a nurse named Florence Nightingale.
When the nurses arrived, they were greeted by rotting animal corpses in the courtyards of the hospital. Inside, they saw piles of sewage, contaminated water and overcrowded wards.
As daunting as this was, Nightingale and her staff were up to the challenge. As a teenager, she felt a calling to serve others and nursing was the modality to fulfill it. However, she was born into an upper-class family and was expected to fulfill the role of such a woman.
Initially, she accepted her family’s wishes but eventually the call to serve outweighed the judgment of her family and she taught herself the ins and outs of nursing before getting further education in Germany and later training the very women who would accompany her to the Ottoman Empire.
The rest is history and the stuff of legend. Six months after Nightingale and her staff arrived, the mortality rate from disease dramatically decreased from 42.7% to 2.2%.
How did she do it? By doing the things we take for granted today.
She instructed that patients be placed at least three feet apart, she ordered that the sewers were flushed several times a day and that the animal corpses be removed. She provided adequate ventilation and implemented methods to ensure sanitary conditions were maintained.
When the war was over a year and a half after she and her staff arrived, Nightingale returned to England and was awarded a fund in her name which she used to fund the building of her Nightingale Training School.
She would continue to work and teach, even in illness until her peaceful death at ninety years old.
The Importance of Service
There are several others throughout history who have devoted their lives to humanity. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are as people. Could you imagine if there were more of us like her, Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi?
Maybe you’ve read on some of the more unsavory aspects of the personalities of these people or others like them. I don’t doubt that they had problems. They are human after all and there is no excuse for bad behavior.
But it only highlights that despite their own issues, they still put their necks on the line for others. Many of us buckle under the pressure of criticism, much less the threat of death.
We are inspired by their work and it is natural to also want their significance. But so many of us have it backwards. We want to be recognized as special and significant, without doing anything that helps others in any way.
Many have achieved significance by hacking our impressionable minds, preying on our short attention spans, relying on our uncritical thinking and playing to our egos.
This then leads a new generation to want the same significance with no idea of what substance is because they rarely ever saw it.
Again, as I said before, nobody’s perfect. But if the water is contaminated and you drink it, what do you think is going to happen? If we strive for superiority and significance without service to others, what do you think is going to happen?
People die. Whether literally or figuratively, people will lose their lives or their minds. They become husks that chase clout and the symbols of success, confidently camouflaging their shame and self-hatred.
I’ve been that person. And the only way to not be this type of person is to commit every single day to giving value because you remember when someone gave you value. You know how important it is to serve.
Eventually, you realize that fame and fortune isn’t what you want. It just symbolized worth. Nevertheless, we see kids behaving badly because it will make them infamous. We see companies destroy the planet and the inhabitants of it, but they make a lot of money. But are they really worth the money if they’re killing us? Aren’t they killing themselves too?
Even if they aren’t, some other company is screwing them over in food, healthcare, education or culture.
In order to be different, you have to look at what your values are. How are you living? Where are you spending your money? What are you doing with your time? That’s how you know what you truly value.
If any of these things aren’t in line with serving others, you need to drop those things and adopt new values.
Also, I am not saying to never serve yourself. If you don’t eat, you won’t have the strength to help feed others. But what I am saying is that we are in danger of overeating. And then we demand that others continue to feed us. It’s selfish, and it isn’t even making us any happier.
So I challenge you to be like Florence. Instead of wanting people to celebrate you, celebrate them. Instead of wanting people to name things after you, honor those who have inspired you to be better by doing your own stellar work. Instead of chugging the fear of insignificance, embrace it. Because no one is more significant than anyone else, even if the media implies otherwise.
Your life isn’t about you because the only reason you are who you are now is because of others. The people who served you are the ones you love the most. The people who used you are at the roots of your traumas and ignorance. Unfortunately, you are living as an influence of both sides, but only one is life-affirming.
You live to serve those you love, but you also live to escape demons. Regardless, you have to serve everyone in love because the counteroffer is pointless, destructive and will only create more demons in others.
And then maybe we can live in a world where people don’t think twice about serving others, just like we do the noble and necessary profession of nursing.