Monday, May 23, 2016

War and Lunch

Imagine the following scenario...

You are an employee at an engineering company. Each department in the company wears different colored uniforms. Administration wears yellow. Engineering wears red. Accounting wears blue, etc. One day, you open the refrigerator in the company kitchen to find that someone has taken your lunch, which was clearly marked with your name. You're upset, as you were very much looking forward to eating that lovely lunch, and you would like to demand compensation from whomever took it. So you ask around to see if anyone saw something. A co-worker that you trust tells you they saw the thief take your lunch. However, your trusted co-worker didn't see the thief's face, only that they were definitely wearing blue, so they must be from accounting. Furious, you storm over to accounting and demand that each person there pays you $10 for your lunch.

Wait...what? Every person from accounting has to pay you? You don't bother finding out which person actually did it? No. No, you do not. Every person in accounting must be punished for that transgression by someone in their department. They are clearly all total d-bags.

Now, I want you to ask yourself a few questions: 1) Will the people in accounting like you more or less after you make all of them pay $10? 2) Will your response make it more or less likely that your lunch will be stolen in the future? Why or why not? 3) Do you think the people in accounting will be angrier with the lunch thief or with you?

You see, it wasn't nice or fair to punish the entire accounting department for the actions of a single asshat. Now, the entire accounting department hates you, and takes turns stealing your lunch and throwing it in the garbage out of spite. But they're sneaky about it. They change their shirt or do it when no one is watching so the crime can't be traced back to them. And you've begun watching their every move, even planting fake lunches and hiding behind the door, trying to catch them in the act. It is all out department warfare. When will the lunchtime horrors end so you can eat in peace?!

At times it is difficult to trace the origins of war but in this case, it's quite simple. No, it wasn't the stolen lunch. After all, you never found out the motive behind it. Perhaps it was a mistake, or maybe that poor accountant hadn't eaten in three days. No, my friend, it was your overblown revenge that sparked this nightmarish world you live in. Even though it would have required a bit more communication and time, it would have been better to figure out who that singular asshat was and punch him in the throat directly. Or, you know, ask him why he took the lunch, and then figure out a rational response. Then, you could have maintained your friendly relations with the rest of the accounting department who are all perfectly nice people (remember Janice who made you brownies for your birthday?). Unfortunately, you did not. YOU BECAME AN ASSHAT YOURSELF by demanding $10 from all accounting personnel. Congratulations.

You might be asking yourself, "Emily, why are you making me think about a situation that sounds like it's out of an HR training manual?" Well, dear reader, this is my attempt to get you to connect to the much larger problem of discrimination. Hopefully, you've already made the connections in your mind as to how our scenario reflects discrimination in the real world (replace "company" with "world", and "departments" with "religion/race/people who are different from you", and ... screw this, figure it out yourself). We can especially see this played out in the very real problem of Islamaphobia that is sweeping across the nation, fueled by some very hateful rhetoric from a certain political party. In response to the rise of ISIS, Donald Trump (and many other people) has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the US. This ban would not do anything to curb terrorist attacks. It is a knee-jerk reaction that is fueled by fear and hate. There is no logic in this reaction. There is no fairness in this reaction. There is no good that could ever possibly come out of this reaction.

Now, before you say "That's total bullshit, Emily. A ban on Muslims is for our own safety," let's compare this with our lunchtime scenario. Let's say 1 out of 10 accountants steals your lunch, so 10%. However, last week someone in engineering stole your friend's lunch. So not all accountants are lunch thieves, and not all lunch thefts are committed by accountants. In fact, less than 2% of all lunch thefts were carried out by accountants during the past five years. Every department has at least one d-bag that steals lunches. So I think it's safe to say, punishing all accountants for the actions of one nimrod is a gross overreaction and completely unwarranted. Furthermore, it's not going to prevent future lunch thefts from happening. In fact, as we can see from the example, it may actually increase lunch thefts, and turn everyone into a grumpy asshole. Do you see where I'm going with this? Because I could go on and on... If you can see that making everyone in accounting pay you $10 is wrong, then why can't you see that a total ban on Muslims is wrong?! It's the same thing!!

This is not the first time 'Murica has tried to do something stupid, nor will it be the last. In fact, the whole reason I'm writing this is because someone on FB posted that sending Japanese-Americans to internment camps during WWII was the right thing to do, and that's what we need to do now. When I read that, my head figuratively exploded. Mind=blown. This was a human that I knew, that I trusted, that I thought was good and kind. How could this be? I began furiously typing a response, even posted it, but then promptly deleted it because I felt that there was nothing I could say to get past the wall that he had built around his mind. Sure I could have listed a million facts about the interment camps and their effects, but it suddenly became clear to me that it wouldn't matter. Facts would not matter... Appealing to his personal life and connections would not matter. He is an adult with a brain, and a wealth of experience in this world. If he could not come to the conclusion on his own that discrimination is wrong, what difference would I make?

Instead, this is my response. This is my catharsis because I cannot bring myself to have another meaningless cyber argument where nothing is gained. Both sides say it is like talking to a wall. Both sides are steadfast in their convictions, convinced that the other is crazy or ignorant or both. If the answer is so clear in my lunchtime situation, why is not clear in every discriminatory situation? Am I missing something? Is there some vague grey area that I can't see? Perhaps it is because the lunchtime situation is personal and affects our daily lives. We get to know our co-workers on a daily basis. At the end of the day, you work for the same company, with the same goal, and nobody wants to get fired. It is in your best interests to operate with the best interests of the company in mind, and that means maintaining friendly working relations. Well, we just need to expand that! Get to know your neighbor. Get to know the people who are different from you. Make a Muslim friend! Because at the end of the day, we are part of the same world, with the same goals, and everybody just wants to live their life. We have far more in common than you can imagine. And at the very least, please, just don't be an asshat.

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