Who, Me? Indispensable??

As we work our way through life, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking one is indispensable. But are we? I know a friend who will go, “Vikas again you are off on your self deprecating mode. Are we all not unique? Don’t we add value in our own special way? ” For sure, we all make an impact on life, on our near and dear ones; make a difference in the organizations we are associated with, leave a legacy. So certainly we will be missed : somehow, by someone. But we need a draw a strong line, before we fool ourselves that we are indispensable.

Contrast this with today’s mindset where people feel proud when meetings are cancelled since they are not available. They take it as a signal of their importance, their need, their seminal contribution. Should not managers’ role be to make himself redundant, ensure team members are prepared with all facts & data so that no one person becomes super critical or their absence a deal breaker?? Today, mostly we hear, “this happened totally because of me” or “this could not be done because I was absent”. To me this is a sad reflection of today’s proclivity of blowing one’s own trumpet, continuously.

Again contrast this with Dwight Eisenhower — five-star General, Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. President. When Ike returned to Normandy for the 20th anniversary of D-Day & was asked to give a speech at a dinner commemorating the invasion, rather than use the occasion to wax poetic about his role in executing one of the most monumental military operations in history, this man of singular eminence instead used the opportunity to read the poem “The Indispensable Man.” quoted below.

Sometime when you’re feeling important; Sometime when your ego’s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted, You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going, Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions, And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water, Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining, Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter, You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time, It looks quite the same as before….

Many times meetings are cancelled or postponed because someone is not available. “He has worked on the project; his input is critical” is the refrain! I am reminded of an RSS anecdote. As per Annual calendar, an All India Meeting was planned & all invitees intimated in advance for smooth logistics. Dattopant Thengdi, thespian Hindu idealogue, based in Bengal then, confirmed his presence. But as the meeting date came close, he informed that there was a program kept by the local Swayamsewaks & this would not happen if he was away. So he regretted the preplanned meeting. Golwalkar Guruji Sar SanghaChalak, chairing the meeting made it a point to mention,” आपण ज्या कार्यक्षेत्रात काम करतो तिथे आपल्याशिवाय कार्यक्रम, बैठक, शाखा लागणार नसेल तर तर आपल्या कार्य करण्याच्या पद्धतीत काहीतरी कमी आहे. त्रुटी आहे हे लक्षात घेतले पाहिजे” (wherever you are working, if a meeting, program cannot be completed without your personal presence, then you must understand that there is a major fault in your way of working)

Today’s populace can learn a lot about humility in public & professional life. Rather than feeling proud “I did this” or “I did that” one must find the humility in one’s heart to say मी केवळ निमित्त मात्र ( I am only an excuse, not the cause). On a practical level, if you quit your job, someone else — no matter how well you did your work — is going to be able to take your place, and the company will keep on running. On a more macro level, when you die, the world will keep on spinning; society will keep on running; people will continue to wake up, go to school, go to their jobs, eat dinner, make love, go to sleep. Nearly everything will continue functioning just as before. eg In Siemens we used to change the German MD, the German Finance Director & the German Factory Director every 3 years, one rotational change per year. So when any employee resigned, I used to tell him: this company changes its Director every year. You are not more important than the Director! We can relieve you immediately!!

As an old saying goes, “Graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.” This might all seem depressing, but actually it is rather liberating. Too many people say yes to things they don’t want to do, & stay in unhappy relationships or jobs or volunteer positions out of guilt, out of fear, out of the ultimately egoistical worry that that others will simply not be able to function without them. The world is usually not quite so indifferent to us as that, but the truth remains that it can still get along just fine without us. Take your hand out of the bucket & the water flows back in. It is a humbling check to the ego, to be sure, but a healthy, freeing one at that.

Let me end with a story from Mahabharata. After 18 days of war, the conch blew to signal an end to the war. Arjun was gratified & prideful. He believed it was only his fighting prowess that won the day for Pandavas. He stood proud and tall in his chariot surveying the battlefield. Custom had it that the Charioteer must first get down & then invite Arjun to descend. Krishna, Arjun’s Charioteer, asked him to get down first. After freeing the horses from the Chariot, Krishna himself stepped off on the ground. Within seconds Arjun’s chariot burst in flames & burnt to ashes.

Arjun asked Krishna what happened? Chracteristically, Krishna smiled & moved away. Disturbed, Arjun went to Bhishma pitamaha to seek an explanation. Bhishma explained to Arjun that during the war many astra, celestial weapons, were targeted at Arjun’s chariot. But due to Krishna’s presence on the chariot they could not harm the chariot or Arjun. As soon as Krishna stepped off the chariot, they all came back to power & burnt the chariot to ashes. That would have been Arjun’s own fate if Krishna was not with him. Arjun realized it was not his skill, but the presence of Krishna & his invisible power which had won the war for Pandavas. Just like Arjun, let us learn to thank the Krishnas in our lives, our teams, our mentors, our friends, our families for our successes.

To end, as i look back on my 67 years, Sure, I did much, but in the end, I was not so important. I quote Rahat Indori to express my feelings: vikas the explorer

लगेगी आग तो, आएँगे घर कई ज़द में
यहाँ पे सिर्फ़ हमारा मकान थोड़ी है
जो आज साहिबे मसनद हैं, कल नहीं होंगे
किराएदार हैं, ज़ाती मकान थोड़ी है
( if there is a fire, many houses will fall victim; there is not only my house here; Today one who is ascending the throne, will not be there tomorrow; He is also a tenant: not the true owner of the home)

Post Script: The idea/theme for this blog was suggested by my friend & reader Siddhesh, based on a WA post of one Suhas Vaidya. Grateful acknowledgements to both for the inspiration. Pl forgive me, Siddhesh, if my blog does not live up to your expectations.