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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Perspicacity

It was a somewhat cool evening at the Golden Palms Resort in Bangalore, and we the participants of the Hornby ELT Seminar were gathered around a table to celebrate the week past with a cocktail dinner. I was accompanying John - my manager, friend and mentor - on behalf of our company, one we both worked for at the time, as much a wide-eyed understudy to my learned mentor as a willing participant in general proceedings. It had been a week of learning and fun, and most importantly for me, it had allowed me to get to know John a little better. He regaled me with various hilarious instances from his time in India, and with equal ease, he wowed the participants of the audience with his thorough knowledge of English Language Training.

Gathered together for the cocktails and dinner, the conversation of the group touched upon many things. Suddenly, in our corner of the gathering, one of the other participants asked John about what it was like to work with me. An obtuse question, no doubt, and I was about to jump in and apologize on this idiot’s behalf, putting it down to the effects of the alcohol that was being served willy-nilly. However, with a poise that I hadn’t until that time in my life experienced firsthand, John turned to this person and said, “I hired him because he has a good head on his shoulders and he gets my ideas and can execute them effectively. He may be a bit cynical at times,” at which point in his response he turned to me and finished with a, “but I want you to know that cynicism usually gives way to perspicacity later on in life.”

Perspicacity. That was the first time I came across that word. It was one of the millions of things that I would learn from John. But ever since that evening, it’s had a very moving impact on my life. I’ve thought about what he meant by it, quite often, and although I understand the idea and the definition of the word, I realize now that it’s a state of being that one eventually achieves. You can’t be there by simply understanding what it means conceptually. It’s a sort of enlightenment – one that I have often visualized but had my own issues with trying to live and be – that one eventually finds oneself armed with. What one does with it from that point depends on the several things, mostly how one came upon this understanding, the circumstances surrounding this “arrival” and the underlying character of the individual in question. But, I digress, albeit momentarily.

The best example of John’s being perspicacious that I can remember from my time working with him was how he had accepted his place in the greater scheme of things and was just living his life with a definitive aim in mind. He just took each day as it came, and made sure that he was enjoying what he was doing. Needless to say, there was an unmatched shrewdness about him when it came to his professional life, which made him very successful at what he did; yet another reason I enjoyed working with him and considered myself most fortunate to be his mentee. That’s what I think it means for me. It’s simple, really. The “cynicism” that he referred to is a result of discomfort in my own skin. There are things that I don’t like on a regular basis, and I make no bones about them. Well, usually I end up going on and on about them and attempting to deal with them is what sometimes ends up being slightly abrasive to all those involved. But I guess perspicacity is knowing that there are some things that you can change, and some things that you can’t, and probably shouldn’t change. That’s a lesson that you can never learn enough, especially if you have to come back to it again and again in your life.

As a mentor, John taught me several invaluable lessons in people management, business process and operations management, and that which I’m most grateful to him, the trust in my ability to carry out any task that he would set me. He didn’t try and dumb things down, and he always welcomed a fresh idea, even if it vetoed one of his own. This is a sign of a great leader, in my humble opinion. But more than being a great manager with immense knowledge, an insatiable curiosity and myriad life experiences, John was a people person who made all those he came into contact with thirst for more of his words of wisdom and to spend more time in his aura of peace and tranquility. I count myself one of the lucky ones in this lot.

I take this comment of John’s, on this somewhat cool evening at a resort on the outskirts of Bangalore, to be one of the most significant things that he ever said to me. Don’t get me wrong, there were several instances of ideas that I had the opportunity to learn from him that I know I’ll remember for a very, very long time. But, I look at this as one of the many lessons that was handed to me as a result of his knowledge of the kind of person that I am. Also, the fact that it came at a time when our professional relationship was well established endears this comment to me all the more. There were many more things that I wanted to learn from him, but I seem to have to had to go through a very turbulent phase in my life that didn’t allow me to be around my mentor just before he left this world for good. Saddening, yes. Yet, not one to give in to excessive bouts of emotion, I’m sure John would wish all those who had the opportunity to get to know him the clarity of vision and focus of emotion to carry on. And for that, I know I’m grateful. He looked out for me. And he gave me what could well be my purpose for the remainder of my existence. Thank you John.
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