“. . . kitchen employees . . . formed a human shield to assist guests who were evacuating, and lost their lives as a result.”
When terrorists attacked and laid siege to the world-renowned Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India, for two nights and three days on Nov. 26, 2008, the response of the hotel staff became a thing of legend. These were the cleaning staff, busboys, cooks — not soldiers, not heroic figures, not even high-salaried employees. Yet, they put their lives on the line, and in some cases gave their lives, for the guests who were in their care.
In a wrenching, brilliant article written by Alix Spiegel of NPR (National Public Radio), he not only pursues the story behind the story, but the reasons behind the extraordinary actions and reactions of these unlikely heroes.
From his interview with Harvard Business Professor Rohit Deshpande, who did a study on the hotel siege, Spiegel quotes: “None of the Taj employees had fled the scene to protect themselves during the attack: They all stayed at the hotel to help the guests . . . at grave risk to their own lives . . . What was interesting about all those interviews with senior management was that they could not explain the behavior of their own employees . . . They simply couldn’t explain it.”
Spiegel said that as Deshpande dug deeper into the mystery behind the actions, he learned that in recruiting their employees, the Taj did not look for the big city, upwardly mobile. They recruited “for personal characteristics, most especially respect and empathy . . . on the theory they will be less motivated by money.”
Besides being uplifted by this article and the people of which it was written, I could not help but be struck by a comparison between them and the dwindling ethics here in our own country. Of course, anemia in ethics and integrity is a world-wide pandemic, not just a local contagion. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for self-preservation. But not at the total expense of character.
This article is a keeper for me. And when I despair in a world that seems to have gone completely mad, I read it and am reminded that, in every country, there are some bastions of honor left on an earth under siege. And it has taken a few of India’s extraordinary “ordinary” people, to do it.
If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.
Martin Luther King, Jr.