The Children of Ukraine Are Our Hope for the Future
I am heartbroken about the children who are surviving the war in Ukraine. It is horrible.
I am unclear about what Putin wants, but what he is doing is awakening a warrior spirit that will one day be a force to be reckoned with…and hopefully change the world for the better.
Like the Ukrainian children, I grew up in the midst of turmoil, living through Israel’s War of Independence.
I was a child, but I knew how to deal with war.
Daily I saw corpses lying in the street and heard the urgent siren of the ambulance racing to save others. I was forced to be street smart — I knew just where to run when the sirens wailed; I understood how to create an afialah, a room blackout, so that the bombers could not see my small building. I could — and did — survive the bombings, shellings, extreme food shortages, and use of newspapers as toilet paper.
So, as a five-year-old future MIT student, I was fascinated by the furrow the bullet created as it plowed through the stucco that coated my balcony wall. Although it was strafed by an Egyptian plane as it flew over Tel Aviv, I was not concerned that the bullet could have created a furrow on my skin rather than the stucco. I was a seasoned plane observer; the plane had flown by, and I did not see another in the sky.
My mother, one of the world’s greatest cooks, risked her life during a bombing attack on Tel Aviv to rescue her potato kugel from incineration in the oven. The adored youngest child of an affluent German family ,she too had become a warrior. The kugel required hours of work: hand-grating the potatoes; squeezing out their liquid; grating raw onions; assuring the right texture with eggs and flavor with salt and pepper; frying it just right in lots of oil; and flipping the round, thick disk (kugel) to fry the other side without breaking it. No way would a couple of bombers strafing our neighborhood stop her from sharing it with her bomb shelter colleagues .
After all, she had already lost all her family in the Holocaust but for my darling, jovial, mechanically challenged Uncle Mauka. And he was facing death as a conscript in the Israeli military. My heart sank when I saw him carrying a giant, antiquated rifle. I feared he would hurt himself more than others.
The girl who scanned the sky for a rain of bullets grew up to be the first woman to do virtually everything in my career path. I was the first woman tenured at Harvard Business School ,the first on many corporate boards, the first to write books praising health care consumers rather than demeaning them as illiterate , the first voice insisting the private sector should play a major role in a health care academic community that referred to businesses as “the dark side.” I’ve had to be strong.
But I am hardly the only or best one to demonstrate that what does not kill you can make you stronger. Far from it. Look at the giants who survived the Holocaust (Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel) and those who emerged as children of survivors (Steven Spielberg, Henry Kissinger). Volodymyr Zelensky’s great-grandparents were killed by Nazis.
Look at Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and ended up as president of South Africa. Look at Cambodian photojournalist Dith Pran, subject of the 1984 movie The Killing Fields, who became a crusader for justice after four years of forced labor under the Khmer Rouge. Look at Consolee Nishimwe, who suffered physical and emotional torture during the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and is now an author, speaker, defender of women’s rights, and advocate for other genocide survivors.
I am Jewish, and so are some of the others I’ve named here, but this is not a Jewish story. It is not a story of any nationality. It is the story of the strength of human beings tempered by the fire of war.
War is hell. It breaks people physically, mentally, and spiritually. But I hope for the Ukraine people, especially the children who are right now walking through this catastrophe. They may not know it, but some of them are becoming warriors.
My hope is the battles they fight as adults won’t be on the battlefield but in the realms of medicine, business, art, literature, or social justice.
No child deserves to be caught up in war‚ but the world desperately needs the strength of spirit that comes from surviving it.
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About the Author:
Regina E. Herzlinger, the Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, has been named the “Godmother of consumer-driven health care” because of her groundbreaking scholarly articles and books on empowering consumers. Her latest book, Innovating in Healthcare: Creating Breakthrough Services, Products, and Business Models, coming January 2023, has won the AUPHA 2020–2021 Bugbee-Falk Book Award.
To learn more, please visit www.linkedin.com/in/regina-herzlinger/.
©Regina E. Herzlinger .