Monday, January 23, 2012

First to jump on to a life boat.

In the 26/11 incident, the employees of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai conducted themselves with rare courage – many giving up their lives in trying to protect the guests. A study done by HBR reports:

During the onslaught on the Taj Mumbai, 31 people died and 28 were hurt, but the hotel received only praise the day after. Its guests were overwhelmed by employees’ dedication to duty, their desire to protect guests without regard to personal safety, and their quick thinking. Restaurant and banquet staff rushed people to safe locations such as kitchens and basements. Telephone operators stayed at their posts, alerting guests to lock doors and not step out. Kitchen staff formed human shields to protect guests during evacuation attempts. As many as 11 Taj Mumbai employees—a third of the hotel’s casualties—laid down their lives while helping between 1,200 and 1,500 guests escape.

…the Taj Mumbai’s employees gave customer service a whole new meaning during the terrorist strike. What created that extreme customer-centric culture of employee after employee staying back to rescue guests when they could have saved themselves? What can other organizations do to emulate that level of service, both in times of crisis and in periods of normalcy? Can companies scale up and perpetuate extreme customer centricity?

We believe that the unusual hiring, training, and incentive systems of the Taj Group—which operates 108 hotels in 12 countries—have combined to create an organizational culture in which employees are willing to do almost anything for guests. This extraordinary customer centricity helped, in a moment of crisis, to turn its employees into a band of ordinary heroes.

In contrast, during the fire at the AMRI hospital in Kolkata, the employees were accused of scooting from the scene of disaster, ignoring their duty to save the patients first.

When the Coasta Concordia sank last week, Captain Schettino is reported to have been one of the first to have jumped on to a life boat ( His version is that he accidentally fell into one). Marine tradition of a captain going down with his ship has been so glorified, even romanticised, that Captain Schettino’s act has come in for a lot of criticism and condemnation.

Is it fair to judge Captain Schettino’s actions based on some old ideas about valour and sense of duty? By risking his life to save others’ what was he going to achieve? Would he not let down his own family waiting for him, by attempting to adhere to old-fashioned views of captains going down with sinking ships? Ok, he may face a week, a month, maybe a year of stinging criticism, or spend a few years in prison for dereliction of duty- but he’ll have the remaining years to live. The world would have long forgotten the incident.

How do we know how each one of us would behave under similar circumstances? Have we been tested? Why should I sacrifice my 'personal' life while trying to discharge a duty defined for my professional self?

As Theodore Darlymple asks in this interesting piece:

Courage is a virtue and heroism is admirable, but do we have a right to demand them? Which of us cannot look back on his or her own life and remember decisions, or compromises made, or silences kept because of cowardice, even when the penalties for courage were negligible?

If we are cowardly in small things, shall we be brave in large? Have we the right to point the finger until we have been tested ourselves?

If there'a fire in your office when some clients are visiting you, would you make sure that their lives are saved first before yours or your colleagues? How do you know how you would behave if such an event happens?


Ian Jack writes in The Guardian:

Bernard Shaw, writing a month after the Titanic sank, wondered about the "effects of a sensational catastrophe on a modern nation". Rather than weeping, prayer or sympathy for the bereaved, the result was "an explosion of outrageous romantic lying". The typical British shipwreck, Shaw wrote, had three "romantic demands" in particular: that the cry "Women and children first" should be heard, that all men aboard ("except the foreigners") should be heroes, and the captain a superhero, and that "everybody should face death without a tremor".

Shaw traced the origins of these expectations to the wreck of the Birkenhead, a troopship (and one of the Royal Navy's earliest steamships) that had hit a rock and foundered off the coast of South Africa in 1852.

While the few women and children on board were being loaded into the boats, the troops held ranks at attention on deck, even though the ship was breaking up beneath them. Hundreds died, including all the senior naval officers. A story of self-sacrifice and stoicism set a pattern for behaviour in Britain's merchant and military navies that enhanced, and sometimes confused, a captain's traditional responsibilities for the welfare of his ship and crew. The "Birkenhead drill" meant a seafarer stared death in the eye while the weaker sex was rowed to safety. In the 18th century, a captain could be both a patriarch and a tyrant, a drinker and flogger. Now, as he took his seat among his passengers at that new Victorian social arrangement, the captain's table, he became a kindlier and nobler father figure. Still a patriarch, but one who would place your needs and life above his own even to the ultimate sacrifice; or so the story went.

Update: 24/1/12:
Ingrid Rowland writes in the NYR Blog:

It is hard to know who we, who coach from the sidelines, might really turn out to be if we should ever run up on the shoals: one of the passengers who snatched other people’s life vests, stepped on little kids, and escaped early, or one of those who turned back to save one more person more helpless than themselves and never escaped at all, like the missing musician, age 25, who let a woman with a baby take his place on a lifeboat. It is so easy to judge a a situation that most of us cannot imagine.

…And of course there are larger questions crowding the surface of these troubled waters. Old salts are shocked by the idea of a captain who abandoned his ship. Ostensibly, the timeless, immutable law of the sea is the cement that binds an international crew like the thousand-plus who worked on the Costa Concordia, the lawHas something changed in seafaring? Has it become self-centered like everything else in the contemporary world, or is the fact that these colossal floating pleasure palaces are barely conceivable as ships and hence no longer obey the law of the sea? that bound even the immortal cads of Greek myth to keep faith with their crews.

1 comment:

ramesh said...

ah you are back with vengeance!! now lets read the stuff you have written ..