Mother’s Golden Rule

My mother was my hospitality hero. She taught me many important things about hospitality at a very early age, especially about the need to provide genuine, sincere and caring service to our guests no matter who they were, where they came from, or how much they were paying. Right there at the top of the list, she taught me to treat people with love and respect, and most important of all, according to her interpretation of the famous Golden Rule.

I remember one particular instance of her teaching this life lesson as if it were yesterday, but in fact it was (approximately) 50 years ago. Mum and Dad owned a small 12-room bed and breakfast guesthouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, a magnificent city where I was born and grew up before heading for the warmer climes of Kenya. It was a grand old Victorian hostelry that my two elder brothers and I used to sweep, dust, wash, vacuum and polish top to bottom every weekend to earn our pocket money.

After finishing my chores one fine sunny afternoon, I observed my mum talking to her regular guests as they came into the small bar at opening time one by one for their regular happy hour tipple, including our local doctor and his dog, our local banker, our insurance lady, a rather large traveling shoe salesman and our local red-nosed policeman, all of whom she warmly greeted as regulars and friends of the family.

Then, just as I was about to head upstairs for my supper, I saw an elderly garbage collector, whom we called the rag and bone man, enter the lobby and fully expected him to be summarily chased away by my rather prim and proper mother. I recall that I was hungry and impatient for her to come upstairs and cook supper, and thought that surely she wouldn’t spend too much time with this gray-haired old man who smelled rather odd.

But I was wrong. Mum greeted him with a big bear hug and talked with him gently over a cup of tea and biscuits about his wife and son, both of whom were seriously ill in a local hospital. She empathized, she asked questions, she listened and then she listened some more while I kept looking at the clock, and when the old man finally left with a few shillings and a basket of fruit from my mum, I asked her, “Why did you spend so much time with him? He’s just the rags and bones man.”

Mum then looked at me, marched me upstairs and said, “Gordon, let’s talk. I’m your mother and I love you, and I often tell you and your brothers lots of important things about life as all mothers should, but if you remember nothing else I ever tell you, remember this: treat every human being you encounter just the way that you would want to be treated, which means with humility, respect, compassion and, yes, even with love.”

She continued, “I know this is not the first time you’ve heard this kind of thing from me, but I want to make sure it’s the first time you truly understand it, because if you had understood, you never would have asked me that question.”

We then talked for another hour over dinner about the meaning and the power of the Golden Rule. Mum went on to say, “If you live the Golden Rule everything else in life will usually work itself out, but if you don’t, your life probably will be very unhappy and without meaning” — powerful words that jolted and transformed my childlike view of humanity and stirred my first interest in human relations, a term I still use in my business over the ubiquitous human resources.

She then said, “When you eventually teach your own children the Golden Rule, you will have left them an estate of incalculable value, worth much more than this dusty old Scottish guesthouse.”

Truer words were never spoken (except for the dusty part, which I will strenuously deny) — words and sentiments that I try to pass on to my own children, colleagues, new employees, managers and leaders of people and profit here in Karachi whenever I have the opportunity to do so, so that they may also strive to achieve similar levels of happiness and success to those I have enjoyed since that memorable day nearly 50 years ago, when I learned the famous Golden Rule from a great teacher and, in many respects, a great hotelier — my dear late mother, Lillian Gorman.