With exception to sashimi, the one time I’ve eaten part of an animal in its most unadulterated post-mortem state was when I ate a goat’s heart in Rajasthan, India.
I was in the desert, confronted by miles of yellow sand and an occasional weed jutting up from the ground like two outstretched arms after a long slumber. It was dusk.
A goat had just been killed by two of the Bedouins with whom I’d been traveling. One held the goat down while the other cut its throat. They proceeded to dismantle the animal. This was all done on a small blanket, on the sun-colored sand, wind blowing just enough to remind you it’s there.
The strips of meat that were pulled from the body would soon see a flame and then become the main ingredient in a stew. But the heart, which had been beating 30 minutes ago, was special. It was a prize. And as their guest, it was offered to me.
I held it in my right hand. It was warm. Uncooked. Its viscous blood coating the sides of my fingers. I didn’t want to eat it. Oh how I wish it could’ve sat in coconut milk and spices, like the cow brain I tried in Jakarta . . . or have been deep fried like the water snake I ate in Shanghai.
Instead, there it was. Undressed. In my hand. I gripped it like I was trying to assess its weight, almost like a pitcher holding a rosin bag as he stands on the mound, trying to figure out what to throw next.
I was not steady. Thick blood rivulets plopped from the heart and onto the sand canvas beneath me, looking like a yellow and crimson Jackson Pollock.
I held it up to my mouth. At that angle, the blood began to creep past the meaty part of my palm and onto my wrist. As it greeted my forearm, it was time to make a decision. Go big or go home. I opened my mouth and thrust the heart deep into me, like I would a jelly donut. My jaws clenched. The thick warm blood—the taste of mercury—shot through my mouth and coated my throat. Then my teeth, instinctively, sawed back and forth through the ventricles. I didn’t know the inside of a heart was so tough, so I cut with my teeth and pulled with my hand until the heart broke free. With a full-body Popeye-esque thrust, I tipped my head back to jerk the heart down my throat and into a place I could soon forget.
Then, with blood smeared about my face, I offered the heart, now an oblong crescent shape, to my Bedouin hosts.
They accepted, greedily devouring what remained.
When I consider why I took a bite of the goat heart (as opposed to handing it back to my hosts), the answer is clear: respect. I’d rather endure gag-reflexes and gastronomic fears than be disrespectful to people who’d been good to me, for respect is one of my core values. Make sure that your company’s core values are consistent with your own. If accountability is one of your company’s core values, then you’d do well to hold yourself accountable not only at work but also at home. Leadership is not a part-time job.