-By Soul Sword-
“Never judge a stranger by his clothes.”- Zachary Taylor
The following is a true incident that the Chief Guest at our school function narrated when asked to address the gathering. Since it has been quite a long time since this happened, I don’t recall the Chief Guest’s name, but what she said that day has been etched in my memory.
It was the Investiture Ceremony of the School Captains that year and I was in high school. The Chief Guest was a respected IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer. As she got up to address the students, I could hear the entire auditorium murmur in disinterest. The IAS officer had a knowing smile on her face as she approached the podium.
After a brief introduction, she narrated an incident that occurred during her tenure in a village. She said she met some underprivileged children at a function one day. She had just then finished giving a speech about the importance of literacy and after the function concluded, she started to leave. As she was about to get into her car, she found a boy who was about 10 years of age standing a few feet away from her car. His eyes were filled with curiosity as he looked in her direction. She walked towards him and started having a conversation with him. He seemed like a confident boy and just like anyone else, she asked him what he wants to become when he grows up.
The boy, without any hesitation, replied, “I want to be an IAS officer”. This came as a pleasant shock to her because usually young children in India always say want to become Doctors, Engineers, Actors or Cricket players. Being proud of herself for inspiring the child, she asked him, “Why do you want to become an IAS officer”. She expected him to say he was moved by her motivational speech and he too (like her) wanted to do some good for the society.
The boy instantly replied, “The red beacon light”. She was taken aback but she gathered herself and asked him what he meant by that. The boy pointed out the red beacon light on her car and said, “I also want to have a red beacon light like that on my car. So I want to become an IAS officer.”
Note: In India, politicians, government officials and VIP’s used to have a red beacon light on their car. These cars used to cruise the roads with sirens blaring disrupting public peace. The red beacon light was viewed as a symbol of power. It was only in 2014 that the government banned the use of the red beacon lights and released a list of very few government officials (high ranked) who were allowed to use them apart from the police vans, ambulances and fire engines.
Hearing the boy’s answer, the IAS officer realised that the boy had no interest in what she had to say, as he was now looking fixedly at the red beacon light. She urged him to study well and take the IAS exam so that he too can have the “Red Beacon Light”. She had a mixed feeling as she left that place that day.
As she continued her speech, she told us that being an IAS officer isn’t the red beacon light. She said the boy was too young to understand that. She said that there are a lot of things that go into being an IAS officer. She told us to think through everything clearly and not just judge careers by what we see on the outside. She continued with her speech and then walked back to her seat after wishing us the best for our future.
As we walked out of the auditorium, I asked my friend what she thought about the speech. My friend laughed saying she had dozed off and hadn’t paid attention. She was more interested in discussing the movie which she had seen the day before. My other friend thought that the story was very funny and said she can’t imagine the look on the IAS officer’s face when the boy had chosen a red light over her.
I am sure that only 10 % of the audience listened to the speech and only about 5 % may still remember what the Chief Guest had said that day. Many investitures and many Chief Guests followed this one, but I still remembered this investiture. As the days and years passed, the story started to have more significance.
For instance, the IAS officer took it for granted that the boy and she shared the same reason for choosing ‘IAS’ as a profession. I learnt that day that though another person and I share the same interest, I should ask the question, “Why do you choose/like/do it?” The answer that they give will make a big difference in the relationship. Trust me when I say that it definitely is enlightening to know what draws each person to even the simplest or smallest of the things. It does sound like a question from a job interview but it helps to keep us from taking other people’s choices for granted or judging them.
Another take away from that story was the red beacon light. The boy had seen the IAS officer’s post as a means of power (red beacon symbolised power and importance) and not as a duty. No part of an IAS officer’s job description includes a red beacon light. A red beacon is just for the ‘right of way’ as the work the officials do is of national importance. Yes, the boy was just a child and children usually are attracted to flashy things but as adults, many of us also do the same thing.
Though children grow into adults, the human tendency to want the things that we see in an advertisement or with another person doesn’t go away. In short, we only want the things that we don’t have and as for the things that we already have; we take for granted.
Most people overlook the duty or responsibility that comes with every red beacon light and yearn for it. Some people obtain the red beacon light and struggle to handle the baggage that comes along with it. Others choose to totally ignore the duty/ commitment that is required and are busy flashing only the red beacon light.
Adults are quick to judge others and think that others have it easy. What we fail to perceive is what we see is just the “Red Beacon Light”. The moment we realise that there is no ‘red beacon light’ that ever comes without an ‘obligation/responsibility’ attached to it, the faster we are to learn that the life we have as ours is beautiful.
“We perceive through our senses a person, a situation or an event, and in an instant, we project our mental models onto that perception. This often results in cognitive errors, which means we judge and respond incorrectly.”
– Elizabeth Thornton