Thursday, November 13, 2014

One story; many lessons

One hundred young boys and girls (or men and women) were waiting for the chief guest to address them. All in their early twenties, they had assembled in the hall looking forward to a bright career in a premier bank of the country.  One of the General Managers of the bank had arrived from the bank's head office to welcome them to the bank's family. He inaugurated their training program and covered various issues of interest to the future bankers during his inaugural address.  He guided them through his inaugural speech, encouraged them to follow the path of hard work and dedication, cautioned them about the possible pitfalls and assured them of all support of the bank in their positive endeavors.  He concluded his speech with a story.  The true story he recalled was an indicator to the abundant opportunities they get to help other members of the society, during their journey in the bank.

The story he mentioned was about two young students of Stanford University in the year 1892.  One of the students was an orphan and was continuing his studies with lot of difficulties.  They had no money to pay their fees to the college.  The two students came up with an idea to arrange a musical concert in their campus.  They thought that the funds raised by sale of tickets would pay off the artiste and the surplus would meet their fee and other expenses.  Ignacy J Paderewski was a famous pianist at that time and was traveling in the United States.  The artiste's fee for the concert was fixed at 2,000 US Dollars.  Concert was a great success but to their horror the students found that they could raise only 1,600 US Dollars.  They went to Paderewski and gave him cash of 1,600 US Dollars and a check for 400 US Dollars.  They told him that the check would not be paid now, but they would ensure its payment in due course.  Paderewski did not agree to this suggestion.  He tore up the check and returned the cash.  "Deduct your expenses for the concert, pay your fee and study well", he told them.  In effect, the concert was a free exercise and paved the way for their fee payment.

Paderewski was a great pianist as well as a great human being.  He later evolved into a composer, politician and spokesperson for Polish Independence.  World War One (1914-1918) resulted in heavy destruction of life and property in Europe.  More than 16 million people, including about 7 million civilians, were killed.  Poland was one of the worst affected areas and was severely ravaged.  During the year 1919, Paderewski was appointed as the Prime Minister of Poland and he also doubled up as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.   He had a major problem on hand.  The war had destroyed all infrastructure and he had more than 1.5 million hungry people to feed with absolutely no money or other resources.  He decided to approach the "US Food and Relief Administration" for help.  The administration had certain problems but they were overcome.  Thousands of tons of food grains were shipped to Poland and the menace of hunger was contained.  Hundreds of kitchen were established to feed children, expectant mothers and the general public.  Shipments of condensed milk, wheat and flour continued to arrive till the crisis was averted.

Once the major problem was solved, Paderewski waned to personally thank the head of "US Food and Relief Administration".  He crossed the Atlantic and arrived in the United States.  He met the Chairman of the USFRA and thanked him for the support.  "You need not thank me Mr. Prime Minister.  I learnt the lesson of helping others from you.  You might have forgotten me.  I am one of the students you helped at Stanford 27 years ago!" said the Chairman of USFRA.  His name was Herbert Hoover.

Herbert Hoover was a Engineer by profession and after his stint in USFRA, he became the Commerce Secretary during 1921-28.  He was elected as the 31st President of the United States and served during 1929-33.  There is a blog post titled "Magnificent Hoover Dam" wherein I have mentioned about our visit to the dam in 2005 and the contributions of Herbert Hoover for construction of this dam.  It can be read by CLICKING HERE.  Herbert Hoover made many remarkable contributions during his tenure as Commerce Secretary as well as President.  The headquarters of the United States Department of Commerce building in Washington DC is named as "Herbert Hoover Building".

Paderewski made his first piano concert in Vienna in 1887.  His concerts in Paris (1889) and London (1990) made him extremely popular.  he represented Poland in Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after the first World War.  He also served as the Chief of the National Council of Poland between 1939 and 1941.  He is said to have been very witty and disciplined.  He would stop his performance if someone among the audience talked during his concert and say "I am sorry to interrupt your conversation.  I will resume after you are finished".  It is said that once he was introduced to a polo player and mentioned that they were both masters in their respective fields, though very different.  He replied that there was not much of a difference.  He said, "You are a dear soul who plays Polo.  I am a poor pole who plays solo"!

There could be many lessons from this true story.  I found these:
  • Help someone in need, if you can.
  • Do not look to only material benefits in life.  There is more to life than material things.
  • Do not forget favors received.
  • Do not forget to thank those who helped in the past.
  • Repay your debt to the society.
  • Of course, any help rendered must not deprive some other deserving person.
There may be other lessons too.  They can be added and the list can be enlarged.