From Crisis to Calling: Finding Your Moral Center in the Toughest Decisions is a thrilling and inspiring book by Sasha Chanoff, the founder and executive director of RefugePoint, and his journalist father, David Chanoff (The New York Times, Washington Post). CNN political analyst and former presidential advisor David Gergen contributed the foreword. The book is a deep dive into the essence of taking action in a crisis, and an insightful investigation in the heart and soul of morally grounded leadership.
As Chanoff found out firsthand, there are moments in all of our lives when we face impossible decisions and find out who we really are. In Chapter One, Chanoff takes readers right into the seething danger of a Congolese refugee camp, where he was in the midst of a humanitarian rescue mission involving massacre survivors and some very scary overseers. Then a young U.S. government aid worker, Chanoff was there to get a group of 112 refugees safely on a plane and out of the country. The catch: he was instructed to stick only to the 112 names on the list, or the entire mission could be scuttled. But he and his colleague, Sheikha, discovered 32 additional widows and orphans in dire condition, their lives hanging in the balance.
This was the essence of a moral dilemma, as sharp-edged as they come. As Chanoff writes, the decision proved to be his own personal “crucible moment.” He spent a long night weighing two impossible choices: either leave the widows and orphans behind to a certain death, or try to bring them and put everyone’s lives at risk. His coworker was adamant that they had to be included: her own moral compass was unshakeable. After hours of soul-searching, Chanoff realized that his was, too. “Are we humanitarians or are we not?” was the question that got to him, he recalls.
This harrowing tale is made all the more so by the fact that today, there are 60 million refugees in the world. More are being forced out of their homes every day. From the African continent to the Middle East to Europe and the United States, this is not a remote crisis happening in someone else’s backyard: it’s everyone’s problem, and we all play a part.
The experience in the Congolese refugee camp led to Chanoff’s founding RefugePoint, an NGO (nongovernmental) organization that helps the most at-risk refugees. Chanoff has recounted the story on such programs as 60 Minutes and Moth Radio Hour, continuing to bring the refugee crisis to light. Since 2005, RefugePoint has helped resettle nearly thirty-three thousand refugees, and is involved in ongoing efforts across the world. Its focus on self-reliance and resettlement is an inherently ethical approach, founded on the concept that lives should not be weighed against “some rational moral calculus,” as Chanoff writes. But it’s also practical: given the chance to start anew and not languish in a camp, these refugees become citizens of their new countries, and many contribute to society themselves.
Chanoff set out to learn if other leaders in other walks of life faced similarly tough calls, and if so, how they made them. As he discovered, empathy and compassion has governed critical decisions made by all manner of leaders, and there are five key principles of leadership that apply across the board. The book includes the stories of eight leaders, including a former Navy SEAL, a high-ranking government official, a corporate executive. All faced their own crucible moments — when they tapped into their own moral core to forge a path ahead, and learned far more about themselves then they had imagined. All became better leaders for it.
Finding that leadership lodestar, as the book so eloquently shows, is especially critical today, given the global nature of today’s pressures. If we confront crucial decisions with the most powerful tool we have, our own moral courage, we can tap into our fullest potential. As David Gergen writes in his moving foreword, this book offers us “the stories of unsung leaders who have faced tough decisions with morality and grace.” After reading From Crisis to Calling, you may find yourself feeling far better equipped to go make a difference, and there’s no better time than now.