Friday, July 25, 2008

Seeking Positive out of the Negative

I was musing last night about the commonly discussed notion of making lemonade when the world hands you lemons.

This got me to thinking about an upcoming chess tournament that myself and a couple of my associates have guided since it's inception in 1999.

Allow me a moment to describe the chess tournament with a brief description of its history.  As you read the history of this tournament, ask yourself what opportunities you may have to make your own lemonade from the lemons handed to you.  I first noted the history of this tournament in a speech I made about gratitude a few years ago.  For the text of this speech, please click here.  The speech excerpt follows.

I once worked with a team member in New York City who represented everything positive when it came to thankfulness. Narender had immigrated to the United States to follow his dreams. He married a beautiful woman and had a wonderful home in New Jersey. When he and I worked together, he never had a bad word to say about anyone, although he did teach me how to swear in Hindi. :-)  He looked at life with wonder and it was clear from his actions that he was in awe and in a perpetual state of gratitude for everything he had.

To give you an idea of how pure he was, for fun one time, we put a small porno movie in the upper corner of the software application we were building and we asked him to review our software to find a "problem" that we had discovered.

As he stared at all the screens, we stood behind him almost shaking with laughter, waiting for him to find it. All of a sudden he turned around with pride and said, pointing to the screen, "this word is not spelled correctly". He was right. He never even noticed the porn movie until we pointed it out and then we all had a good laugh.

We organized a corporate chess tournament and he signed up with many others. It wasn't until the tournament started that I discovered that he didn't even know how to play chess. So we patiently taught him and despite our best efforts, he was soundly trounced in every game.

I noticed that the more soundly he was beaten, the more he laughed. At one point, I took him aside and congratulated him for such a healthy outlook and I asked him how he was able to be so happy as he was beaten over and over.

His response summed up thankfulness perfectly. He told me that he didn't care about winning or losing. Spending time in the chess tournament was his way of learning something new and spending quality time with people he enjoyed being with and he respected. He also enjoyed taking his chess stories home and sharing them with his wife. This he said was the secret of life – making the most out of every moment and appreciating every opportunity.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Narender was on the impact floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center and a person who lived such a pure, positive life was physically taken from us.

For about a week afterward, we struggled with trying to understand the meaning of this, how something like this could happen to someone we considered a perfect human being. I then realized that I wasn't going to remember Narender in the way he died – it was how he lived that was important for his memory.

So we organized an annual charity chess tournament and named it in his honor. To play in this tournament, each player pays an entry fee and names a children's charity that he or she is playing for. We have had players from around the world. The top 4 players in the tournament divide 100% of the prize pool between their charities, with all the proceeds going to the charities that they were playing for. Since then, our tournament has donated thousands of dollars to children's charities. Narender's spirit of eternal thankfulness continues to make a difference every year in the lives of sick and needy children.

Narender's attitude was that we should accept that life is filled with good and bad. It's how thankful we are for everything that we are given and what we do with what we are given is what determines the quality of our life and the lives of those around us. He was right.

As I work with friends to prepare for the next chess tournament in Narender's honor, I am reminded how he saw lemonade stands in every basket of lemons.  Many of us, myself included, have much to learn from such a belief system.

While I can't believe it's almost 7 years since Narender was taken from us, the lessons he taught me and others blessed to have come in contact with him remain.

What are you doing with your basket of lemons today?

Yours in service and servanthood.


PS: If you would like to enjoy a friendly game of chess, make new friends and make a difference to others, drop me a note at  I will make sure you are on the list of people who get invited to play when the tournament starts.

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