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Everyone in the car (and in one’s life) should feel safe, and in control


My father, the Late Mr. J Gowrikanthan, or “JG” as he was known, was the first role model I had in my life, and still is the person I aspire to be. My decision to become a coach was primarily based on my observations of the number of people he helped, in more ways than one.


He told me, when I started driving a car, “Srinivasa (he was one of 3 people who call me that,) remember that when you are the driver, every person traveling in the car must feel they are in control of their journey. It is not enough if you, as the driver, feel that you have control, and are driving safely and appropriately, or that you are doing the right things. Each person traveling in the vehicle must feel in control, and feel safe throughout the journey!”

Each person traveling in the vehicle must feel in control, and feel safe throughout the journey!

And the thought that might come to one’s mind as soon as that is read, is that my father expected that the car should be driven extremely slowly. Far from it. He would always travel sitting in the co-passenger seat next to the driver – which was the ONLY seat he would occupy – and sometimes actually insist that I drive faster.


He would always be awake (thanks to an accident during a road trip when he was much younger, when the driver went to sleep and caused the car to turn turtle!) and be aware of everything on the road. Including motioning with his hands whenever there was habitation, or any other thing that needed the driver to be aware, and take appropriate action.


He would insist that the car not jerk forward when I changed gears. For those of you who have not driven the Hindustan Ambassador and Premier Padmini Cars, you would not understand that this WAS a feat. It is another matter however that even in today’s technologically advanced vehicles, there are quite a few who make the vehicle jump forward whilst changing gears.


I always was to ensure that the brakes were applied smoothly and that there was no jerking when the vehicle came to a complete stop. He would also insist that the passengers in the car should not be thrown about when it turned, even the sharpest of curves. And of course, it goes without saying that going over bumps and road humps had to be negotiated quite nicely. This meant that over time, I learnt the trick of being able to take the bumps without really slowing down too much, and of course taking curves at the appropriate speed, and sticking to the lane that I was supposed to.


I was also to look out for others’ mistakes on the road. That it was not enough if I was a safe driver myself, I also had to provide for others making mistakes. And driving in India, well, there are enough and more opportunities for others’ mistakes to take place. However, all of this meant that I did become a decent and reasonable driver, and more importantly one whom passengers felt safe to travel with.


During a recent road trip with a friend, we were talking on this subject. I made a remark that he had probably started driving in the USA where he used to visit, than in India. He asked me how I could come up with that observation, which turned out to be true. I said that the styles of driving were quite dissimilar in India and in the USA. And the very small things about one’s driving would give that information. I digress, and let me get back to the theme I started with.


Living life, in a family, is very much like driving a car. Being a leader, or a manager, is like driving a car. It’s not enough if the driver (Head of the family, or the business, or team, or division) alone feels in control. Everyone in the car (family, business, team, division) should feel in control and more importantly safe. If you think otherwise, just think about a time that you were traveling in a vehicle that was driven by someone who made you feel uncomfortable. It’s not just about being in control. It’s about giving others comfort and confidence as well.

Living life, in a family, is very much like driving a car. Being a leader, or a manager, is like driving a car. It’s not just about being in control. It’s about giving others comfort and confidence as well.

And what is the reason for everyone needing to feel in control? Well, when one is not in control, they are apprehensive, anxious, and sometimes, afraid. It is like walking on thin ice, or on a slippery floor. Self-preservation takes over and this goes back to the most basic and primal fear – of dying! While traveling in a car, this might apply to physical injury or even death. And in other situations and circumstances, it applies to the death of one’s ideas, thoughts, or suggestions.


Research shows that a mental injuries or “slights” cause as much “pain” as a physical injury does. The part of the brain that gets triggered when an animal attacks a person, is the same part that gets triggered when the person THINKS of the animal attacking them! The brain does not differentiate between “real” and “imagined” threats. The biochemical reaction to real and perceived threats is exactly the same!