A Question of Attitude!
It was a clear Tuesday morning over the Atlantic, and we were a little more than halfway through a flight from London to Dallas. After a light meal, I was getting ready for a short nap when the captain made a cryptic announcement that we were beginning our descent and were expected to land shortly, not in Dallas, but in Newfoundland, Canada, because the U.S. had shut down its airspace!
A wave of apprehension immediately swept over all of us in the aircraft. Our minds went into overdrive in the sudden silence that engulfed the plane. Since there wasn't any aircraft malfunction, a hijack was the only plausible explanation! But a few minutes later, the captain reassured us that the change in flight plan was solely due to the closure of U.S. airspace. In hindsight, that turned out to be empty reassurance. For the world would never be the same after that fateful 11th of September.
As the pilot circled and landed at the airport in Gander, Newfoundland, the dozens of aircraft filling the runways indicated that something was definitely amiss. After spending six hours on seats that were getting increasingly uncomfortable by the minute, we were shown a BBC news broadcast which relayed the horrifying details of the day's unfolding events. We spent another six hours in the aircraft, waiting for further word from the Canadian authorities, unsure of when we would fly out, or where to.
Later that night, the airport authorities cancelled all flights and allowed us to disembark. We soon realized that our troubles were far from over - 37 aircraft had offloaded passengers in this small town of 10,000, which was now bursting at the seams. How could it possibly cope?
We were bundled into buses and taken to a nearby church, where we spent the next two days and nights. Misfortune has a way of bringing people closer; it took little time for all the 137 people from our flight to bond together as one big family!
I will never forget the generosity of Gander's residents. They plied us with pillows and blankets, and gave us a TV so we could watch the news. They even shared their home cooked meals with this huge troop of uninvited guests! If that wasn't enough, they spent what little spare time they had, keeping us company.
The irony was inescapable. Against the backdrop of one of the most shocking attacks against humanity, here we were, at the receiving end of innumerable acts of kindness. Our hosts from this little town gave us big city folks an unforgettable lesson in human values.
I believe that we need more of this "Gander attitude", in our day-to-day lives, both personal and corporate. After all, our attitude is on display at all times - when we interact with clients, colleagues and the company; when we respond to situations at work; when we build products or self-image; and so on. Attitude shapes identity, both of organizations and of the people who work inside them. It is therefore important to pause and check our attitude quotient once in a while.
Come September, and my thoughts turn to those people who gave so selflessly in the 9/11 aftermath. They also turn to another group of unsung heroes, our teachers, who pass on their knowledge and wisdom to students year after year, in the same spirit of selflessness. September 5th is celebrated as Teachers' Day in India, exactly a month before the rest of the world does. This is a great occasion to express our heartfelt thanks to the teachers, both from our alma maters and the school of life, who taught us lessons, big and small, that will stay with us forever. It is also a good time to conduct that attitude check, to see how it measures up against the values our teachers tried to instill in us.
But let us not stop there. As we salute our teachers, let us resolve to actually put their teachings into practice. Starting with cultivating the right attitude, which enables us to make a difference to the world around us.