One of the greatest business lessons I learned in my lifetime didn't come from a board meeting or while on the job -- but rather a medical mission trip to one of the poorest countries in the world: Haiti.
A team of medical professionals and volunteers from our local Rotary Club of Fairfield, Ohio journeyed to the country with a seven-day goal to provide care to 200 people each day for six days at various villages.
When we landed at Port-au-Prince airport, I remember vividly telling myself, "My sole purpose for being here is to serve." But yet, this was quite contrary to the assignment I was given as part of the mission.
See, my team role consisted of not only helping set up our clinic, which was typically in an open-air village church, and registering patients, but also controlling the crowd and serving as gatekeeper. The most difficult part of my job was closing the gate after the 200th patient of the day.
Every day I had to close the gate on dozens of adults and children who had patiently waited in line but just happened to be one step behind patient number 200. How could I shut the doors on those in need?
During our trip, we stayed at the Destiny Village orphanage in Pierre Payen, but at our first clinic we actually served children from other orphanages.
I engaged children to teach me Creole in order to minimize any anxiety they might have had before seeing a doctor for the first time. I specifically noticed one father with two children in line.
He had somehow snuck into the clinic without permission. His son was in such poor condition, with open sores all over his body, that the nurses gave him special care after first having to bathe him thoroughly so the medication could be properly administered.
I felt compassion for the father because if my own son were in desperate need I too would do whatever possible to find him care. I never questioned how the man got into the clinic.
When I closed the gate at our second clinic, after 200 patients were served, many people subsequently jumped the wall for medical help.
I requested cooperation to return outside the wall, which was honored, and the crowd suddenly parted in my direction -- that's when instantly a man holding what appeared to be a severely malnourished elderly woman stood panting in desperation for entry into the clinic.
I opened the gate for him and immediately nurses and doctors swarmed over the woman, who appeared to be a skeleton with skin, flirting with death.
That woman was actually a 16-year-old girl who suffered from severe diabetes. She has since gained weight and now is in stable condition.
Our third clinic was held at a village that some called "harsh" in Creole. The first person who came to the gate was a very young little boy, probably around five or six years old, who I thought was simply asking for food. I shared a granola bar with him and continued working.
The crowd control on this day was difficult due to desperate need in the area and high heat. I requested the line of people outside the clinic be formed away from the gate, and I noticed that people treated the little boy without care or concern when compared to other youngsters -- shoving or overlooking him.
His minimal clothing was dirty and worn, and he had no shoes. The crowd would sometimes run the boy away, as if he did not belong. Yet, he kept coming back and stood at a safe distance from the crowd at the entry gate to the clinic.
After the 200th patient, I closed the gate. The remaining crowd slowly dispersed. When it was safe, the little boy returned to the closed gate.
Through my broken Creole with older village children I learned that the boy had no parents or home. I asked one of our nurses if she would see the little boy. The nurse responded and I asked one of the helpful teenage villagers to accompany the boy during the examination.
The boy needed to be cleaned, examined, fed, clothed, given shoes, and medication administered if needed. We had what this child needed.
I share the scenarios above because each represented an example where I thought my "ethics" could be questioned.
Why did I not ask the desperate father who had no invitation to leave? Why did I open the gate for a desperate uncle with his dying niece in his arms, after closing the gate on others who waited patiently? Why did I have compassion for the homeless child after closing the gate on other children who came with their parents?
What I learned from asking myself these questions, and what I hope to effectively share with others is the following: Each day when all numbers add up correctly, when all rules have been met, and it is justifiably time to "close the gate" -- if something is still wrong, correct it.
This blog originally appeared in the Ethical Business Guide developed by Rotary Club of Fairfield, Ohio.