Mr A, my boss, has been unusually happy during the last few days. Unusual because it was his cardinal principle never to show that one is content or happy in office. “Happy looks give a wrong impression and invites trouble,” he had told me. I reminded him of his principle, but even this attracted a gentle smile instead of the usual scowl.
“David,” he rebuked, “there are times when one takes liberty with discipline. I cannot but be satisfied on the success of Mr X.”
Mr X was a competitor and the arch rival of my boss. X had recently been promoted and posted to a department which is called the graveyard of careers. Sensing a good mood, I decided to press on and asked boss about the secret of Mr X’s success. Boss immediately understood the sarcasm, and approved it.
“David, the highest point of civilization is reached when men behave in a manner befitting a cultured man. Manners, which I have often noticed, you ignorantly call snobbery or elitism,” he said.
Mr X can hardly be called cultured. “I always felt being cultured was being a good human being, cheerful, humble and polite,” I said.
Ignoring my comment as irrelevant, Mr A continued. “A higher intellect should demonstrate his superiority and ‘class’. What you call snobbery is the attitude that says – I cannot tolerate fools.”
“Then why is it that this ‘attitude’ is invariably found in people who are duffers of the highest order,” I wanted to say. Instead, I asked, “Why are the really great achievers so humble?”
Mr X looked pained at my ignorance. “I have not met your ‘really hot achievers’ so I wouldn’t know. You know, to succeed, you have to show that you are different – you must stand out. The great people will recognize you in the crowd if you have the right attitude. Your opinions will matter. People will fear you and will think twice before trying to take advantage of you. There are many advantages of cultivating an ‘attitude’.”
I have seen ‘the attitude’ in action very often. Being rude is, of course, an integral part the concept – rudeness developed in a manner calculated to cause maximum hurt to an underling. And the other essential ingredient is the ability to discard the ‘attitude’ and assume a ‘supine and humble’ position at the drop of the hat. In this connection I vividly remember a meeting on ‘maintenance and upkeep of the campus’ held a few days ago. The closing part of the meeting went as follows.
Superboss: Mr A, how about a concrete road from the main gate to the office complex?
Mr A: (Although alarmed at the prospect that he would be given the task, Mr A maintains composure and says, sotto-voice) mmmblee mmmuumm…
Superboss: What? Speak louder.
Mr A: (Dignity and composure intact, in slightly higher tone) A very good idea sir. Of course that should not be a problem. Only that we might, just might, have a slight problem with the authorities. In our approved plans that entire area is not to be developed.
Mr X: (Sensing an opportunity) Where does it say building roads is development?
Mr A: (With full force of ‘attitude’ at his disposal, looks towards the ceiling in utter exasperation at the sheer senselessness of the comment) mmmblee mmmuumm…
Superboss: I think X is right. Building a road can hardly be called developing the area.
Mr A: (Changing tack and the expression with the practice of a movie star) Of course. Hardly. (With a look that suggested that the preposterous objection had, in the first place, been placed on record by Mr X) Instead of finding faults at every good suggestion, I think we should mmmblee mmmuumm… I think Mr X can use his contacts and get the approvals, and then the finance can call the estimates and the admin can be asked to hire a contractor…That’s where we must be careful. Hiring of the contractor. Maybe a committee can be set up…
Events had moved at such a crazy speed that Mr X had failed to keep up with the changed power-alignment in the room.
Mr X: But..
Superboss: ‘X’…you should be more positive. ‘A’ is right. Instead of finding faults, get those approvals fast. Put the suggestions in the minutes. ‘A’, you better be in the committee on hiring the contractor…..
The mood and the ‘go-getter’ directions of the Superboss were of course not to be tampered with. The meeting had ended with Mr X loaded with a stiff task, while Mr A looked forward to an afternoon of calm contemplation.
Coming out of my reverie, I noticed Mr A had, in the past few minutes, enumerated more advantages of developing the right attitude. But I did not feel I had missed much. I knew I was a bad student, and was unlikely to really master this art. However, I could not but admire the boss in action that day, and silently paid my homage.