Friday, May 21, 2010

An Emblem of Hostility

An emblem is defined by any gesture that has a specific meaning in a given culture. For example, an A-OK or Thumb Up have a positive meaning in North America, whereas a middle finger is considered to be rude and hostile. Such emblems are most often made willingly and purposely. It becomes an emblematic slip when it is made unwillingly, and usually for a short period of time, in a similar fashion to a slip of the tongue.

[1] Terje: “Jo, jeg kan, eh, jeg kan ikke forklare. eh.”
[2] Hellstrøm: “Det der er ikke måten å gjøre det på, du kan ikke behandle fisk på den måten der.”
Terje cannot explain [1] why he cooks fish in advance and stores it in the walk-in refrigeration unit. Hellstrøm knows this is a culinary sin and fish is better cook to order. For this reason, he tells Terje “this is not the way to do it, you cannot handle fish the way [you do] there” [2]. At 0:09-0:10.5, Terje makes an emblematic slip by scratching himself on the chin with his middle finger up slightly after the first premise. I believe it has the same meaning in Norwegian and North American cultures.

Terje is the chef in the restaurant and does not want to be told what to do. He sees Hellstrøm as an intrusive adversary. This hostile attitude most often results in confrontation because one will ferociously defend his or her territory, even against a person who is there to help! I have witnessed such attitude.

There is a social versus ethical choice to make in such circumstance. The choice is to either save a person's feelings over telling this person the truth. Most people take the easy way out and will save the person's feelings. This is a social lie. Master manipulators always choose this route because everybody likes people who make them feel good about being themselves.

The consequence of such social lies are usually minimal and sometimes beneficial. Truth is sometimes abrasive in term of social relationship. Your girlfriend asks you whether or not she has gained weight, would you answer “yes”? Social lies will unfortunately destroy a failing business. Hellstrøm comes to a choice where Terje may hate him for telling the truth but he may help to save the business and Terje's job at the same time.

I have seen this over and over in high-risk high-reward projects. The cost of saving people's feelings is excessively high to the point of ruining a project (or many!). Bridges are not built on feelings but are instead engineered.

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