The Lady and the Lamp

During the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale gained the nickname “The Lady with the Lamp” from a phrase in a report in The Times:
She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.[12]
The phrase was further popularised by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1857 poem “Santa Filomena”:[13]
Lo! in that house of misery
A lady with a lamp I see
Pass through the glimmering gloom,
And flit from room to room.

I have long observed in myself a desire to “save” people. I jokingly refer to it as the “Florence Nightingale Complex.” I think it comes with being an empathetic person- someone who can quickly feel the emotions of those around them. It’s both a gift and a curse, frankly. You spend a lot of time trying to guide people to their optimal end- emotionally. Trying to help people out of situations…to save them. Right?

I see this a lot with my clients as well. I can’t tell you how many times I have said to a client “you know, you may have to accept the fact that you just can’t save this person. That they are going to have to save themselves. You may have to walk away first.”- only to find myself repeating the exact same behavior in my personal relationships. Ironic, right?

Here’s the thing, caring about and wanting to help people is an admirable trait, particularly if you are in love with the person you are guiding. The problem comes when that desire to help exceeds their own desire to save themselves. Translation, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. You can let them go and simply hope that some day they will ask you for help and actually participate in changing their lives. Sometimes, you have to walk away.

And so, our lesson for today is there is NOTHING WRONG with letting go of a person who doesn’t participate in their own salvation. It doesn’t make you a bad person.

You can carry the lamp, but you can’t force people to follow the light.

Be happy this weekend. Breath. 🙂


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