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The Chair that regrets (2)

By G. Balasubramanian

“Good morning “– I wished the chair as I entered the spacious room. I was well dressed in a white half shirt and a white pant and was sporting a new colorful tie! So was the person who was sitting with a white shirt and the white dhoti.on that ergonomically designed wooden chair behind a large teakwood table. There were two people standing behind him each on one side like security guards and each holding a file. And a few files were placed on the table.

I did not get a response to my ‘good morning.’ I dared to revisit the words to make my communication more specific and audible! Yes, I was attending an interview for the post of a Lecturer in Chemistry in one of the known colleges in a city known for its explosives and prints! (In the late sixties!) The gentleman sitting on the chair was well built and sported five rings on all the five fingers clearly indicating that he was the boss of the situation and the event. He was an industrialist and the owner of the college or the chairperson of its Trust! All that was absent there was- humility!” Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less” says C. S. Lewis.

And there were no other chairs except the one he occupied -a throne!

“What is your name?” he asked in vernacular. I looked around and said, ‘where do I sit?” He raised his eyebrows and replied, ‘you can answer this question even without sitting in a chair.”

I insisted “Sir, I think we deserve a place to sit.” I could feel his blood pressure shooting up. “You guys come in search of a job but are so arrogant to make demands even before you get it.”

The youth in me responded “Sir, I think this has nothing to do with the idea whether one gets a job or not, but it is how comfortable one feels when we attend an interview.”

“You may go” he said not so politely, and I must thank him for that. I did expect the same and left with the blessing that a person who does not know chemistry will not ask me any questions in chemistry! As I walked out the other candidates were surprised at the speed with which I returned. I preferred to walk out silently rather than making any statement to them, as someone would still be able to accept this as they may be urgently in need of a job!

Inundated with the arrogance of power and authority, many who sit in chairs lose sight of basic human courtesies and the urge of others to survive and grow! Many in chair fail to respect those who are present with them for their knowledge, skills, experience, expertise, creativity and innovation! While some chairs feel that all these can be bought, a few others feel that hiring someone means it is inclusive of their self-worth and pride. The simple piece of wooden chair sitting there mute regrets these things! Unfortunately, it cannot communicate! “It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs,” says W. S. Gilbert.

Imagine a chair of an educational trust declining to offer a seat to the Head of the Institution where education in human values is transacted! (I do not refer to occasional situations when they stand, but as a matter of practice in their paradise!)

Imagine of a senior politician who refuses to offer a seat to the citizen who wants to discuss with him some issue and makes him or her stand for long time irrespective of the age, the status and the self-worth the person has! (He forgets how the wheel of fortunes moves!)

Imagine the CEO of an organization who would say “Well, do not waste your time and my time by sitting here. Whatever you want stand here, tell me and finish it off;” but the conversation will go on for long time. His intentions are indeed questionable.

“Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons, secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is nothing, yet at the same time one with everything. It is in this sense that humility is absolute self-effacement" said Dag Hammarskjold, the former UN General Secretary.

Both the chairs one occupies and the chair one offers are live expressions of the culture in which one lives! As such when there is constructive collaboration between these chairs, it leads to a romance among people who share them, whatever they do, whoever they are and wherever they are!

There are two key issues relating to chairs – how do we survive in them and how do we grow up being in them? It is imperative that we should learn to grow being in them, lest we fall, sometimes with a big injury! Teachers grow in position to be Principals, executives grow to become departmental heads, heads of departments grow to become the organizational leaders. In all these cases, growth is inbuilt into the process. Learning is fundamental to growth and hence the chair can play the role of a facilitator, increasing comfort levels!

There are a lot of lessons the chair can learn from those who work with them. I fondly recall an incident which happened in the mid-eighties when I was chairing a meeting of five members and two of them were visitors from Britain. During the meeting as the peon came and served the Tea, while both the guests said, ‘Thank you,’ I remained silent. The British guest smiled at me and said, “I think you forgot to say thank you to that person.” I explained to her hierarchy and protocols in our system. But she responded saying ‘In spite of all that, how good and gratified the person would feel if he listened to a ‘thank you’ from his boss.” I was silent. Thereon, for the last forty years, I never forget to say ‘thank you’ to anyone who serves tea or coffee even in a hotel. I felt every time I did that, the chair I sat in nodded its head saying, ‘good job’! “We learned about gratitude and humility - that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean... and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect" says Michelle Obama, the former first lady of United States.

When people with humility occupy the chair, the chair never regrets it. “We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility."- Rabindranath Tagore.

“I have some more regrets,” said the chair. I said ‘Certainly I will lend an ear soon’, as I walked out from that place.