What You Are is Who You Are

For once I could follow up on time on the tragedy of the plane crash in Russia that killed young hockey players. The investigation revealed – pilot error .That was just a euphemistic way of saying that the pilot was cocky and overconfident, and the copilot was drunk. The cockpit recordings revealed that the copilot was actually egging the pilot to go ‘faster’, and the pilot obliged. Then they made the rash decision to land even though visibility was close to zero. A trained pilot and navigator. making silly decisions is born of arrogance. That brings us to my question – how far can training override personality?

I believe that when times are tough, and in stressful situations, it is only one’s character that matters. You either have the wherewithal to do it right, or you don’t. It is not training that inculcated that ability into you; it is a lifetime of learning, most of it being unconscious and involuntary. What a person learns specific to the job he or she is doing can be ingrained only as far as it is aligned with the principles the person already has. Of course the pilot was trained to fly, of course he had experience, of course he knew the warning signs of all defects in the craft. Of course he believed that he could go faster and be safe, that he could certainly land the plane. What he did not have is the sensitivity to the fact that whether he thought he could land the plane in that condition or not, he had to be overly cautious because he was literally carrying 50 lives.

What kind of a person would take that lightly? That is precisely what I am trying to point out. It is eventually the only thing that defines our work – the kind of person we are.

I remember the captain of our British airways flight refusing to take off from Mumbai even though the mechanical glitch had been fixed and the plane certified to fly, because he was not comfortable taking off in the craft in a repaired condition. British airways put us all up in a hotel for the night till the new craft came in. That was a good pilot of course, and I am sure a great man too. He exhibited a simple, yet all-important value called responsibility. Training and experience may make a good pilot out of an irresponsible person , but when that irresponsibility does show up, it does so, sadly, with deadly effect.

It strikes us viscerally when people lose lives because of simple character flaws of another, but we do see – and often ignore – this phenomenon in all walks of life. Professional ability rarely overcomes character. We know of doctors who do not care, we know of accountants who play the books, we know of Presidents who never had the brains or the heart to lead. Sometimes the world gets lucky, and these inadequate people finish their tenures and move on. However, when a crisis does strike, everyone involved suffers.

Whatever you are, a hot dog cart puller, or an ambassador, it is the ‘who’ you are that matters.
A woman who can override personal issues to help a friend will be the same woman who can be a great first responder, or a successful CEO. Silly girls will always be silly, whether they are rich housewives, working to support themselves, or studying to better themselves. We cannot change who we are by adding course work, or even a degree to our portfolio. We change when we experience, and learn, life’s lessons, and imbibe them. For better or for worse, sometimes life does not bother to test, and thereby teach, some of us.

It is said that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. Unfortunately when the required strength is not available, the going just goes tragic. India is what it is today because when the going was really tough, we had Gandhi to guide us (oh yes, it takes great moral strength to be non-violent!). However, at the other end of the spectrum we have many countries wallowing in chaos and oppression because the people who lead them are not leaders in any other way but in their position.

So, do we wait for good fortune to throw our way the right doctor, teacher or taxi driver?
What we really need to do is take into account a person’s emotional intelligence along with those degrees and certificates. A lot of major corporations in India used to give candidates aptitude tests. Maybe that was really a good idea. For high-stress jobs a talk with a psychologist would be a good idea.

I would definitely be comfortable with an airline that checks a pilot’s mental health along with the required physical! Of course my favorite spiel – let your children do what they want to! What draws them is their natural calling. An occupation they find fulfilling will be one that is a good fit to their personality. Do the world a favour and let them follow their hearts!!

Sarah Alam

The author began writing seriously when the Editor of Deccan Chronicle was kind enough to allow her to submit a story for her paper. She freelanced for the paper and wrote across the spectrum – children’s stories, reports, controversial viewpoints. She continued to write when she moved to the US. Her fairy tales were published, and she began her blog. Like most women, she juggles a lot of roles – wife, mother, teacher. But her qua writer is the one she cherishes the most!