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“Sir, your omelette will get cold!”

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One thing I hope for Jiya and Sonam is that they get to travel the Earth far and often. Traveling is a healthy form of disruption that we all could use. Traveling reminds us of how little of a spot on the globe we actually occupy. It forces us to accept that there are other ways of doing things. It forces us to re-think our beliefs. Traveling messes with us, and it should.

Before my recent trip to India, I used to think of pride as a bad word. Not anymore. 

Here’s the scene from my recent trip. I’m sitting for a breakfast in a hotel. I order an omelette. The omelette comes and I barely notice because I’m responding to emails on my phone. A few more emails later turn into minutes. The waiter then returns.

“Sir, your omelette will get cold. Please eat now.”

In all my years of eating at restaurants, I’ve never had a waiter tell me to stop what I was doing and eat. Still, I followed his instructions and ate immediately. It was a damn good omelette. 

“Sir, how was the omelette?” he asks a bit later.

“Very good,” I say.

“THANK YOU, SIR!” His eyes widen, his smile goes from cheek to cheek. This man has just learned he has won the lottery, you would think.

In my own head, I figure that he must also be the chef. This is why he’s overly pleased.

I would be wrong.

A few days later, a different meal and a different waiter. Upon recommendation, I order a snapper cooked in Thai spices. The plate arrives. The waiter gives the customary introduction to the meal, puts the fish in front of me, and leaves the room. This time, no phone, no emails, I am starving, I dig in immediately.

Less than one full second after he has left the room, with my fork still in my mouth, he is suddenly back again, standing directly in front of me.

“Sir, how was the fish?”

He stands by closely to watch me chew and swallow, and waits to hear me speak.

“Wow. It’s very good,” I tell him.

“THANK YOU, SIR!” he says. I kid you not — the guy gets 2 inches taller in front of me, his chest puffs out. The same wide eyes, the same cheek to cheek smile. It’s literally stuck on his face and you need  a bottle of Windex just to wipe it off. 

I feel I donated a kidney to him at this point. Like he just cooked a State Dinner for me and I was the President. Yet he wasn’t a chef and I was no dignitary. His responsibility was only to carry food from the kitchen to the customer. 

The same happened in other cities I visited in India. I ordered dishes and the waiters immediately came to ask me how the food tasted.

“Very good.”

“THANK YOU, SIR!” they would all reply with sheer and utter joy. The same wide eyes, the same cheek to cheek smile. Again, as if they had cooked the meal themselves with their own hands. Or as if it was their recipe that had been followed by the chef. Or as if they were the owner of the establishment who had written the menu. Yet it was none of the above.

This was just genuine pride in the overall work product. Seeing the customer happy was their joy. 

Pride gets a bad rap. Like any virtue (and I now believe pride to be a virtue), it is a means between two extremes. It must be displayed at the right moment, and in the right amount. For instance, most people would say that honesty is a virtue. But too much honesty can be offensive or insensitive. Too little honesty we term as ‘deception’. Only the right amount is a virtue we call ‘honesty’. Or, take courage, another virtue to most people. Too much courage leads to rashness. Too little courage is cowardice. The right amount is a virtue we call ‘courage’.

The same is true of ‘pride’. Too much of it makes a man egotistical and vain. Too little of it makes him meek and indifferent. The balance between the two is a virtue, and there’s nothing wrong with having pride for the right reasons.

In India, there is an expression, “Atithi devo baha.” Guest is God. People there take pride in that concept, and I think more business schools should be teaching this to the CEOs of tomorrow. A business is far more valuable when each and every member of the company – from the top down – exhibits pride in the company they work for, in the work product they deliver, in the colleagues they work with, and in the customer experience that follows, even when they didn’t themselves make the dish, write the estate plan, or build the plane.

Because while it is the chef who cooks the meal, it is the waiter alone who gets to witness the pleasure of the first bite.

To your family’s success,

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