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  • Jan-Paul Van Dessel

The 6 inch nail.

Updated: Mar 28

Many years ago (about 17 in fact!) driving to work in a previous job on a regular Friday morning, I was listening to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. The artic explorer Pen Hadow was the guest of the show and he was selecting some fantastic tunes, from Kylie Minogue to classical greats. Those familiar with the show format might recall that at the very end, the guest is offered a number of fixed items that they can take to the imagined Desert Island plus one luxury item of their choice.


Usually you might hear of things like a comfy pillow, suncream, a grand piano or a CD player. Pen said he wanted to bring a 6 inch nail!! It really caught my attention, a nail, a 6 inch nail. "How could that be a luxury?", I thought to myself. He had been so engaging I had to keep listening.

He went on to explain that he had been reviewing a book about the true story of Russian sailors stranded on the ice-bound artic island of Svalbard. With practically no supplies or resources they were on the verge of death. Scouring the area around them they found a piece of timber (probably from a wrecked ship) that had a long metal bolt protruding from it. From that moment, their fortunes changed.


It became a weapon and a tool to make other useful items. They hunted and killed animals and protected themselves from many polar bear attacks. Hunting produced food to eat, oil to burn lamps and cook with, more resources for tools made from bones and clothes from furs. From the edge of dying they all survived for over 6 years before being rescued by another visiting ship.


The story has always stuck with me for a number of reasons, one being that when I got into work that day I plucked up the courage to actually contact Pen via his company website to ask him more about his thinking. We had a very humorous email exchange, including him saying that it was not the kind of contact he was used to receiving from a bank employee (my then occupation).


It also stuck with me as a great example of what we call in person-centred counselling as the 'actualising tendency'. An innate motivational force in the development of every human being, present from our birth to our last breath. A desire to live, survive, thrive and make the very best use of the resources around us (physical, emotional etc). Often things will get in the way of that 'actualising tendency', and it can become distorted, stunted and delayed by events such as abuse, low self-esteem, trauma, neglect, shame (to name just some!). The process of counselling helps people to once again refocus on their 'true self' and the desire to be whole, fulfilled, happy and loved - and in doing so begin to recognise the resources around us and in us that can help move us forward again.


So even at our lowest points, if we are open to the possibility and can find our equivalent of the 6 inch nail, a pathway of survival followed by recovery and then growth can open up.


Thank you Pen for your quirky and abstract luxury item selection all those years ago.


The original link to the actual radio show is here for anyone interested in a trip down memory lane...https://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/https/vpid/p02pnz2k.mp3







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