In 2007 an anti-corruption group in India developed a rather creative way to help people ‘just say no’ to corruption.
The ‘5th Pillar’ as the group is known printed some 25,000 rupee notes that had the official Mahatma Gandhi and design on the face of the note and a mission statement about anti-corruption on the other side.
The goal of this initiative was to allow ordinary citizens at all levels of society to take a stand without provoking a confrontation with people in authority.
When I first read about this via the British ‘Times Online’, I was kind of thinking it was a bit of a joke. Printing and distributing fake money with a mission statement on it that people could hand over to police officers or other government officials that want to be ‘taken care of’ just seemed odd to me.
Why couldn’t people just say, “Screw off. Just give me the ticket and let me be on my way”?
Corruption happens all day, every day in all places everywhere – no doubt. I guess as a dreamy-eyed, milk-fed midwest American (ooo…look there’s another pretty colored temple), I just had never really experienced it in any real way before.
Do police officers here ask for bribes? Perhaps. I’ve personally never been asked, but I have also never been pulled over while driving. I have, however, heard many the tale of others that have been pulled over and given a ‘have a nice day’ without any tickets or warnings after having palmed off a 500 rupee note.
But, if I ever was asked to pay a little extra to have my application approved, my contract signed, my construction project finished or my goods delivered, I’d probably comply. That’s just seems to be how it goes down and when you’ve already waited for what seems like an eternity for something to get done or to be delivered, the extra bit of cash out of hand starts to feel like a VAT. You’re not happy to pay it, but you pay it because you know you must if progress is to be made.
Call it bribes, kickbacks or a gentle greasing of the palm, it’s definitely not right. But, when everyone is doing it and no one is questioning it head-on, the general vibe about it all seems to settle into one of total normalcy. And normal is good, right?
Boat shaking and water boiling can only lead to change. Change will certainly come with chaos. And chaos, as everyone knows, most certainly leads to some sort of unhappiness. And when life is already hard enough, why be confrontational and create more chances for unhappiness?
If the local cultural sense is to not want to provoke confrontation, I feel I made the fatal error of working here – I was confrontational with heaping armfuls of boiling water.
I foolishly thought that by being rather straight-forward and direct about issues and problems that were encountered during the project I was helping to lead would trigger the same sort of responses I was used to having back in America. Identify issues and find solutions.
Heck no. People did not like it and found my attitude to be aggressive, rude and confrontational. Rather, ‘American-like’, if you will.
But, I refused to change my methods and that was my mistake. I now realize that progressive change towards a more transparent way of doing things while having open and honest communication about issues can only happen here if you avoid conflict and confrontation.
And that’s the rub. How in the world do you bring up issues with the hopes of working towards resolution when everyone you work with finds it to be confrontational and negative to have discussions about such things?
I wish I was one of those expats that was sent over from a large international corporation that has an entire staff of people devoted to helping expats relocate and settle into their new communities and work environments. Maybe then I would have been given some up-front training and advice. But, that’s not how my dice were rolled.
Looking back, I would definitely do many things differently. And maybe by throwing myself directly into the funeral fire and later watching myself slowly burn, I developed even better skills than what I could have learned from an out-of-date powerpoint presentation and a lady in HR that has never left the country.
There’s just that tiny voice in the back of my head that’s so hard to shut off saying, “It could be done quicker, better and more efficiently if it all went down like this. I know. Trust me. I’ve experienced this exact same thing using these methods and success was achieved.”
But why should the crazy, loud, red-faced, really negative lady be trusted? All she does is bring up issues and problems. It’s stressful and not positive at all.
Eureka. Step gently my expat friends. It’s back to Bob and the baby steps.