news Monday, June 15, 2015 - 05:30
(Courtesy: The News Minute)   Just the other day, an ambulance, sirens screaming, got stuck at a red light on one of Adyar’s busiest main roads in Chennai. Many vehicles did their bit to move out of its way. However, despite several irate fellow road-users asking one particular cab driver to make way by jumping the signal, he refused to budge. It seemed like the longest minute of my life, as I stood watching the scene.    When the signal turned green, the taxi driver calmly sped off, much to the relief of many. It was then that the ambulance could get past the traffic.  How do you deal with the dilemma of doing what’s right and expected of you in a situation like this? Or do you fear the system, wondering about the repercussions of your actions?   Such a situation rose again recently at Chennai’s Phoenix Mall. A shopper, Krish Ashok, accidently damaged his left cornea from a particularly sharp price tag while trying out clothes at an apparel store.    When by instinct the injured man’s wife went into a nearby store to ask for ice cubes to place over his eyes, the store complied, but only after giving her some tea. In a Facebook post, Ashok says that even though his wife offered to pay the complete price for a drink for the cubes, the shop ended up wasting precious time by making the exact drink that she ordered, instead of just handing over the ice-cubes.   Ashok says he was later told by his doctor that quick medical attention was good as the injury had been serious.  Without blaming the individual concerned, he wrote in the Facebook post that what transpired was the due to the fault of the system which created fear in the minds of employees about the possible repercussions of their actions.       Blaming the “management”, he said that not trusting employees to make independent decisions was a breakdown in empowerment. He wrote, “Perhaps reassuring your staff that providing ice cubes for a medical emergency will not cost them their jobs will go some way in restoring some basic human courtesies.” Sure enough the company did address the issue in a response to the original post.     It regretted the incident saying that there was a miscommunication between the employees and the woman, and then explained its decision to remove that employee.  With such a move, the company has only re-instilled fear among its employees. “The kind of training companies end up giving low wage employees is largely threat-based. Do this or you will be fired. If you do something you aren’t supposed to, you will be fired. So in this atmosphere, I strongly believe that end customers should take a strong “don’t fix the individual, fix the process” stance. Because it’s too easy to shove this under the rug and fire the guy,” Ashok said. After outrage against the company and the eventual firing of the employee, Ashok deleted his Facebook post saying, “I was distressed to the point of eventually deleting my post because that is not the example I want to set for consumer activism - we whine, we complain, they fire one poor low wage employee and claim it's all fixed.”   This episode brings to mind a scene in the award-winning Tamil movie, Kaaka Muttai (spoilers ahead). An employee at a swanky food joint beats up one of the kids from the slum for trying to enter the shop. The eatery later sets things right, but their instant reaction? Fire the employee. However, if the employee had allowed the children in, who knows how the bosses would have reacted? It wasn’t wrong on the employee’s part to think that he would have been in bigger trouble had he let the children in.   But it is more than just about this incident.   If the fear of the system – employers, government, police – prevents someone from helping a person in need, or worse, a life and death situation, we will create more tragedies.   It’s only when companies and the government start making citizens feel that they have their back, will people truly come forward to do the right thing without fear of repercussions and confidently say, “Here are your ice cubes, Madam”.   (Image courtesy: The News Minute)