By Raju Mandhyan
DECADES AGO, I filled in for a speaker who for some reason couldn’t make it for her one-day training assignment. Her audience was made up of scores of school teachers and administrators from one of the provinces. Her subject was Business English. At that time I did not do Business English, I did Leadership English. The organizer said it would be okay.
Eager to do a good job, I reached the venue an hour before call time and set up my speaker accoutrements. As the crowds came in and settled down, I was announced as the speaker who had replace the assigned speaker. The change of topic was also announced and the crowds approved the change and let me get started.
We laughed, we played, and we churned up the learning in the hall. Everyone participated excitedly except for a small group at a table which was at the far end of the hall. I tried to involve them in many creative ways but they were set on not participating and they seemed happy de-energizing the class.
Come lunch break I unplugged the microphone from my collar and slowly walked up to them.
Everything okay here, folks, I asked.
No, not really, bellowed the burliest of them all.
Tell me about it, please, I smiled.
Well, we came in to pick up some lessons in English instead we are getting leadership, he growled.
Oops, I am sorry, I mean no harm but I remember the change was explained by the organizer.
Yes, we know, but we are not happy.
Uh, okay, not in my hands to do anything but let me call the organizer and she’ll sort things out for you.
So I let them talk. And, boy did they talk! They began arguing right after lunch and didn’t stop going back and forth over the same issue for hours.
All through their quarreling I’d walked up to the side of room and with my head hung low. I leaned against a wall and felt like disappearing into it like a ghost. All other participants began to sneak out for a coffee or a cigarette. Some stole side-eyed glances at me and I could sense them feeling sorry for my predicament. I didn’t move, I didn’t flinch and all the emotional havoc within me showed no signs on the surface. This profession was my passion and I knew that it required payoffs. Sometimes these payoffs were hugely challenging.
Come merienda break I could make out that peace hadn’t settled in between the organizer and the burly group. I peeled myself away from the wall, gingerly walked up to their table and stood there quietly. It took them a few minutes but the buzz amongst them ebbed and they looked up at me.
Is it okay if I ask you all a few questions, I heard myself croak
Okay, replied the burly one.
Is it correct that all of you have taken the day off to be here today?
Aha, yep, he snapped at me.
Would it be right to say that there is nothing productive you can do for the rest of the hours for today?
Maybe, he said.
Is it also true that you now cannot get the hopes, the time, and money you may have invested in today?
The hope and time yes, but the money we might, he smiled with a curl on his lips.
Would you say that all morning before the lunch break, others were enjoying and learning from my session?
Yes, I think so, he said.
Then, in that case, may I request you please to let me go back and finish what I started before lunch and at the end of the day if everyone in the room seeks a refund, I will pay it back even as I am not the organizer, I said respectfully.
He looked at his fellow grumblers and they all dropped their eyes. He turned to me and said, okay, please go ahead.
I am sure most everyone in the room heard and witnessed the exchange. With a prayer in my heart, I gently walked back to the stage, clipped the microphone back on my collar and began to work. The smokers and the deserters slowly slipped back into the halls and sat down. I must confess the energy in the room wasn’t the same as it had been before lunch and yet this was something I loved to do and I let love rule the day.
Come 5 p.m., my work was done and I took a bow. As people began to leave they smiled gently and murmured a polite “thank you.” The burly ones were the first to step out. My heart felt heavy for them even as I knew I’d done good work. I was hoping someone would come talk me and say something. That to us speakers and trainers is good fodder. It feeds our souls. It seemed, I wasn’t going to get any today.
Then I heard a young female voice, “I have been touched and inspired by everything you have said and done here today. I have never witnessed so much patience, dedication, and commitment to a craft. Because of today, I will stay committed to my craft and stay a teacher forever.”
My knees almost buckled and I had to hold back tears when she added, “Maraming salamat po!”
Raju Mandhyan author, coach and learning facilitator.