My co-worker Carolyn keeps reminding me of my three business resolutions for 2008:
People can usually figure out the reasoning behind the first two, but I think “Don’t wave at people throwing rocks” needs a little more explanation.
Back in 2004, my husband and I traveled to India. We met with Beverly Sallee, a very successful international business woman and philanthropist. She had a business in India. Each year, she took out enough from that venture to pay for her travels to India and then invested the rest in projects inside India.
Our trip was part business, but mainly pleasure. I spoke to a group of her business leaders in Delhi but also had the chance to be a tourist in India with some great guides. Beverly arranged for us to spend one day with big extremes. We wanted to buy some jewelry in Delhi and so went to a top jeweler. I have never seen such gems and I’ve been in top jewelry stores in the US. Nothing prepared me for the glittering stones that were everywhere in this beautiful store.
We then went to a resettlement village, about an hour outside of the city. We traveled in two Suburbans, along dusty roads into the countryside. The residents, about 1,000 in number, were mainly women and children and represented some of the poorest people in India. They had been moved from Delhi, where they had been living in the rubble of old buildings. The old buildings had been bulldozed to make way for new construction and so the government just moved these people out to a former village at the edge of a closed mine. There was no business, no water, no sewer, no electricity, no jobs, no transportation … nothing. The men had left and so there were just women and their children. The women supported their families with prostitution. They were incredibly poor.
We were there during elections. There was a lot of suppressed anger coming out during this dangerous time. Unbeknownst to us there was also a Communist rally happening on the other side of the village. As Beverly, my husband Richard and I toured the narrow streets with our Indian hosts, I noticed that our cars began following us. Also, the roof tops of the houses along the street became lined with people. They were shouting and I just, of course, assumed it was something along the lines of “Hi, How are you doing?” So, I waved back. Our guide said to me, in his beautiful Indian accent, “This is not a good place.” I agreed – it was sad and depressing. I wanted to find something to do to help these people who were starting somewhere less than zero. He hurried us along and we left soon after.
It was a couple of days later that I discovered that the people on the rooftops were shouting something like “Death to the Americans,” and were throwing rocks at us, not waving encouragements. Our guide tried to warn me, of course, but I completely misunderstood.
So, Carolyn made me promise “no more waving at people throwing rocks.” But I’m not sure I’m going to keep that resolution. It’s the best example I’ve ever had in my life of “turning the other cheek,” even if it was completely unintentional.