Thursday, March 25, 2004

My friend Big T, the Man from Kazakhstan, wrote the following parable of the Spanish elections. I don't personally agree with him--I'd have voted to rehire the PP on the grounds that though I'll admit they are unaesthetic at times, I think they do a pretty good job. But it's well worth a read, and a lot of intelligent people agree with Big T, who (I'll keep this information very general in order to disguise his identity) was a teacher of business at a prestigious university program and is now some kind of computer genius. His passion is music and he knows everything about everything regarding the subject. He has seen several parts of the world that most people haven't.

Here's how trustworthy he is: Several of our friends have him do their tax returns. I'd ask him to do ours but one of Remei's cousins who works for a bank does it already.

Imagine the following situation.

A shop attendant is hired by the owner of a candy store. He is a good employee, works hard and increases sales for the store. Every day some people steal items (chewing gum) from the store, but there is a regular bunch of visitors (called #) who steal the most product near the counter.

When he talks with the shop owner and discuss the theft issue, the shop attendant blames all the theft on #. "You know how they are", he says. The owner agrees, but wishes that the shop attendant would just carry on with his job, avoid theft whenever possible, and did not blame every robbery on #.

Then, one day, while the shop attendant was at the back of the store tidying it up, hears some noise and, when he gets to the counter… all the chewing gum from the store disappears! The shop attendant doubts: Who was it? Was it #? Or somebody else? And it could not come at a worse time. Apart from the theft, he has been doing a good job (some customers do not like his manners, but he knows how to sell candy) and his contract is up for renewal the very next day.

But before he can think about it, the owner comes, sees what has happened, and asks for an explanation. The shop attendant goes for his usual story: "It was #. Always was, always will".

The owner is not surprised at the shop attendant's answer: He has been saying this every time he asked him, and certainly knows # is bad. But, in a surprise move, he says:

"Well, this time we shall be able to know who did it. I installed some in-store cameras and they filmed everything. Let's see what happened"

The film shows that it was... %%! The shop attendant is surprised. When he was at the back of the store when the robbery took place, the noises he heard were typical of #,… but could have been made by someone else. It was not #! What can he do now?

The shop attendant looks at the tape again. Ah! He recognizes one or two of the faces. They live not too far from the shop. He tells the shop owner: "Do not worry. I'll get them".

And off he goes. He spends the rest of the day looking for them and sending SMS to the owner reporting his progress on his search.

The very next day, he comes back to the shop, when his contract is up for renewal. The shop attendant says:

"Look. I made a mistake on blaming # for the robbery... But I have already traced some of the thieves and one of them has just been already arrested by the police. When thinking about my renewal, please consider that my track record shows that I have been a good employee (sales have increased while I have been working here). I know that theft is an area I can (and will) work harder. Now what do you say?"

The owner answers:

"Look, I know you have been a good employee on sales... but maybe someone else can get the same level as you do. However the thing that has been annoying me of late (specially yesterday) has been your attitude towards all the stealing in the store. I think that, if you had put on a bigger effort in trying to protect my shop - remember it belongs to me and you are my employee -, you might have detected not only our regular thief # but also %% as well. You always blamed # -bad people, up to no good, and guilty of a lot of things, I agree… but not this one- and this distracted you from the fact that there could be other people interested in stealing chewing gum”.

And then continues:

"I appreciate very much your efforts trying to find %%. They show that you can be and are competent. But do not forget that, when you were doing this, your were doing your job - as my employee -. I would not have expected anything less from you. Putting all things into consideration, yesterday night I made my decision: I am not going to renew your contract. I shall contract a new store attendant whom I expect to have a nicer attitude to the clients, work on theft and achieve your sales record."

The shop attendant does not move and is thinking of shouting "After all I have done for you!", but refrains. He knows who the next shop attendan will be. Yes, he is a nice guy but somehow inexperienced. The shop attendant knows that, in a year's time, he can get his job back. And remembers what qualities got him the gig the first time around: Incompetence from his predecessor and a good job interview (where he stressed efficiency as his goal instead of his bossy attitude).


Think about it and ask yourself/selves

1) Would you have fired the shop attendant?

2) Do you think that the shop attendant, despite his conduct and faults at handling the robbery, should have kept his job on the basis of his track record and quickness in finding the real thieves?

3) Would you consider that the shop owner has a moral obligation to keep the shop attendant because -although he caught him misinforming him thanks to the camera- the attendant rose to the occasion and got the thieves?

4) Is it your business / my business to care about how a shop owner hires his employees - as long as he fulfills his obligations, pays his taxes and is a law-abiding citizen?

Of course the shop owner might be making a mistake. We can say it to him, pointing at the sales increase.

Maybe the shop owner will say: "Thank you for your insight. I might be wrong, but I look at the full picture when making my decisions. Maybe I should forget about some faults from my employees, which I might be guilty of myself..."

Maybe he will take a deep breath, sign, look at us and say firmly "But, at the end of the day, it is my store".

Bonus questions

5) Discuss if our opinion about or the rationale behind the shop owner's statement ("It is my store") would change if he had said "It is my country" (from capitalist to patriot?), "My country, right or wrong" (a patriot with capitalist feelings?) or "My store, right or wrong" (patriotic capitalism? is it possible?).

6) Which of the following statements from the shop attendant to the owner is more likely to get his job back:

a) "Don't be stupid and give me back my job"
b) "Don't make a stupid decision and please give me another go at the job"

Apologies for any spelling / grammar mistakes. I hope that more people would listen to Nick Lowe-penned, Elvis Costello-rendered and Bill Murray-karaoke-Lost-In-Translation-performed "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and wish for a lower rank for anger in the current state of the world chart (and this forum, which can host any opinion but does not need shouting, dissing, screaming, four letter words,... you know... for making good points)

Signing off with an extract from Otis Redding's "Respect"

Ooo, your kisses (oo)
Sweeter than honey (oo)
And guess what? (oo)
So is my money (oo)
All I want you to do (oo) for me
Is give it to me when you get home (re, re, re ,re)
Yeah baby (re, re, re ,re)
Whip it to me (respect, just a little bit)
When you get home, now (just a little bit)

Find out what it means to me
Take care, TCB

The Man From Kazakhstan

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