Talking Courage with an Author … and a Survivor of the Killing Fields

(Approximately 3.5 minute read.)

pisey leng

Pisey Leng lives in New Zealand where she owns a thriving bakery.  She is widely considered a beacon of inspiration to those who face life’s toughest challenges.  Pisey is deeply committed to helping others embrace a mindset that enables them to create a life of peace, happiness and abundance.

Join us as Pisey shares her perspectives and stories of courage in the workplace. 


How would you describe workplace courage?

Workplace courage is challenging authority or a strong team culture regardless of the consequences of that action.

What does courage look like in your workplace?

There was an instance in which each member of staff was required to cast a vote of confidence/no-confidence in the team leader at the time, due to complaints from some staff members.  There was pressure from the complaining members that all members should vote no-confidence; if team members cast a vote of confidence, acting against this pressure, there was a potential to be outcast from the main group and life might get very difficult.

I was put in this position where I thought I was the only person who would cast a vote of confidence.  The pressure to conform was evident.  I had to be prepared for the consequences and voted against all of my colleagues.  The outcome was clear before we started; as I expected, the majority voted no-confidence and the leader was demoted.  I voted to keep her, knowing that it was likely that she would be demoted and that I may be outcast by my colleagues.  I did this with pride; I had the courage not to conform to what I though was unjust.  As it turned out, my colleagues respected my opinion and no friendship was lost.  It was about having the courage to overcome the perceived outcome that was more threatening to me than the actual action.

Another workplace scenario involved working in an operating room environment.  I was ridiculed about something menial by a well-known and very short-tempered surgeon.  She was making fun of me in front of everyone in the theatre while she was operating.  I was very angry to say the least, but I bit my tongue and continued to work diligently until the end of the procedure.  I made up my mind that I would not let her get away with abusing me like that.

After finishing surgery, the whole team sat down to have supper in the staff room, at which point I said the following to the surgeon, “It was not my intention to offend you in the operating room.  I’m sorry if you felt that way.  However, I feel that I did not deserve to be treated the way you treated me.  I had to bite my tongue not to swear at you in there.  Your behaviours were rude and unacceptable.”

She answered, “Why didn’t you swear back or kick me in the leg.” To which I answered, “I don’t do that, especially when you were still operating on a patient. As you know, patient safety is paramount.  I do not wish to be treated this way,” and walked away.  Everyone seemed to be pretending that they didn’t hear the conversation, but two nurses came to me afterward and said, “You said what we have wanting to say for a very long time.”

The potential consequence I was facing was that the surgeon complained of my so-called disrespectful conversation … I could be fired or disciplined. But she didn’t make the complaint and I had her respect from that time.

Please describe 1-2 examples in which you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who/what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome?  

Having read Pisey’s book, “The Wisdom Seeker,” when Pisey and I discussed this question, we decided to let the book cover do the talking:

Pisey Leng survived the infamous killing fields of Cambodia that claimed the lives of nearly two million people in the late seventies. 

In the face of unspeakable horrors, a light shined in Pisey that kept her determined to survive – and she did.  The Wisdom Seeker is a stark account of her incredible story.

Her story will highlight that Pisey found serenity and peace, seeking the good and the seeds of advantage in every situation.  She developed tremendous courage to always move forward during this time.

pisey leng

From your point of view, to what extent are our world leaders leading with courage? 

In my personal view, most of our world leaders act with a great deal of courage.  In the case of Theresa May and the recent Brexit movement, she has battled the opposing faction while her own conservative party threatens her position as the Prime Minister of the UK.  Time after time, she is still standing her ground.  Only a person with courage is able to continue with the pressure of losing support from her very own party.

You can learn more about Pisey’s story in her TEDx talk, “Holding on to Hope.”

I had the honour to meet and have dinner with Pisey last November in New Zealand.  It is hard to put into words the deep impression that she left on me.  There is no doubt that she inspired me with her mindset, her optimism and hope, and her courage.  I have great respect and awe for Pisey’s strength and for her willingness to look for the good in the horrific circumstances that she experienced in the killing fields.  I encourage you to read “The Wisdom Seeker” and to be moved by what can be.


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