A subject that interests me is the modern day concept of ‘rules’ and the way we deal with them. I guess part of my outlook is shaped by the fact I spent so many years with the military,where you don’t ask why, you do.
A day or so back Bob pointed me to a humorous but also slightly troubling post of a blogger he and I both often read, Market Man Manila. The gist of the story is, Market Man (MM) went to the supermarket to buy some groceries and started his shopping with one of those express lane hand baskets. When he was ready to check out, the special hand basket lanes were all backed up but several of the regular ‘silver’ shopping cart check stands were open, so MM marched up to one of those empty lanes and was told that since he had a hand basket he would have to fall in line in the hand basket lane. “Why”? “It’s the rule, sir.”
Now certainly on the face of things that seems a stupid rule. I won’t argue ‘for’ the rule for a minute … were it my store, I’d abolish the rule instantly. But as the clerk tried to explain … as one of the lowest level employees in the place, she had been instructed to follow the rules, under penalty of termination … period.
Again, the logic behind the rule escapes me … but the logic of keeping a paying job in a country hobbled by massive unemployment and poverty does not escape me … maybe a lot of people out there were born a colonel or some such rank and never made their way up from E1 trying to raise a family on a pittance, outranked by everyone they see. It’s pretty easy to berate low-level staff who might be worrying about feeding their kids when you have a good paying job and money in your pocket.
MM went on in his often humorous but also somewhat bitter and demeaning style to relate for several paragraphs how he essentially considered this employee dumb because she could not explain why the store had the rule, and when a supervisor was eventually produced, the she too could not explain why the rule was in place.
Quite frankly I think the story was a bit disingenuous … the way the problem was finally resolved was that MM got a regular ‘silver’ cart, transferred his groceries to that and left the store, original mission accomplished. Rule or no rule, this is the way I shop often … thinking I need only a few items, then transferring to a regular cart when I discover I really need more … I learned the transfer trick from just watching other shoppers, MM has lived here all his life, I can’t believe this technique wasn’t familiar to him as a matter of course. This story is similar to a lot of expat stories I hear, when at the end, one has to wonder was the person’s original intent to buy groceries or to waste a lot of time and emotional energy in proving (to someone, maybe himself) just how smart or important he is. The fastest way to get through the day, in my book, is to keep your eye on the prize … I really don’t care who thinks I’m smart or who thinks they ‘got over on me’ as long as have my groceries in hand and am headed home …
The comments to MM’s post are quite extensive, many from other Filipinos and almost overwhelming agreeing with the tone that suggests the lowest paid employees in the store are ‘dumb’ because they can’t rattle off not only what the rules are, but an explanation of the rules. Seems a bit much to me. In the military we would have said, “the reason for that rule is above my pay grade, sir.”
MM, for personal reasons keeps his true identity private, but I believe he is a high level executive for a company in the financial field. Banking and finance are just full of rules like the hand basket/silver basket issue that caused MM’s heartburn. Even though he’s a senior executive, not a low-level work for wages employee, I’d make a bet I could walk into his office, read a few memos and company manuals and in only a few minutes find some ‘rule’ that he himself would have trouble enunciating an explanation for, contemporaneously, on his feet with someone obviously angry sticking his nose in his face and demanding a fast response.
I really think that every one of use operates inside a set of rules every day that we can’t come up with an instant explanation for … even the ones we like we can’t always explain. Why does the bank insist you endorse a check in a certain way. Why does McDonald’s stop serving certain items at 11 am when many other dining establishments have breakfast all day long? The list could go on, but I think my point is clear … there’s a corporate or government reason behind every one of those rules, but how many of us are prepared to give an impromptu explanation?
Would you feel good about yourself if you went into a McDonald’s at 11:01 am, ordered a breakfast item, get told that breakfast hours were over, and then spent who knows how many minutes of your precious time demanding the 16yo at the counter on her very first job explain the rule?
Frankly, I’d feel kind of embarrassed and sad after I came down off my high horse … almost like a bully you might say. Their counter girl in McDonald’s and the checkout girl in the SM Supermarket didn’t make the rule and neither one has any idea of what corporate level decision went in to deciding ‘cut off hot cakes at a certain hour or serve them all day?’ ‘Checkout all types of baskets at a certain checkout, or restrict to certain ones for certain checkouts?’
Why would the rank and file be expected to discourse on the reasons for the rules, when they get paid a pittance to wear a silly uniform and accept whatever comments and criticisms a customer wants to sling their way?
Seems a bit unrealistic to me ..what do you think?