Brian's Blogs

Selfishness of the blame game

It's been a bad week for some of the world's despots, as well as those the English would describe as not quite playing cricket with their customers and constituents.

After CCTV exposed both McDonald's Sanlitun outlet in Beijing and a branch of Carrefour for selling expired food, both organizations had to ramp up their public relations efforts in an attempt at damage limitation to minimize the harm done. Not only were employees suspended, but fulsome apologies were wrung out of the offending firms.

Goldman Sachs saw $2.15 billion wiped off its market value on Wall Street after one of its directors vented his spleen as he handed in his notice by publishing an open letter in the New York Times that called the investment firm a "toxic and destructive" place.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague finally handed down a verdict finding Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting boys and girls as young as 11-years-old to fight during the final years of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 1998-2003 war. Prosecutors said Lubanga's role in the conflict was driven by a desire to maintain and expand his control over Ituri, one of the world's most lucrative gold-mining territories. They alleged the group abducted children who were then taken to military training camps, where they were beaten and drugged. Girls among them were used as sex slaves. Lubanga faces the prospect of spending the rest of his days behind bars.

It’s a good feeling when the bad guys get their come uppance. As that age-old saying sums it up: “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”.

Far too many people believe that they are above the law, or that they are so much more special than their fellow human beings. Personally, I will be delighted if Lubanga is locked away for the rest of his life. I will continue to avoid using Carrefour as it is not that long ago this same French store group had to make a similar groveling apology when a number of its branches were caught cheating their customers by mispricing goods. I will continue to distrust banks and large financial institutions who have been caught on far too many occasions fleecing their customers who they have well and truly taken for a ride. Whether Greg Smith – the Goldman Sachs ex-director – is right or wrong in his accusations, the number of similar stories from this sector leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

I’m a firm believer in the principle of voting with my feet – that is, I try to avoid using firms that treat their customers shoddily or worse still, cheat them. And sometimes they even get the message, once they have already closed the stable door after the horse has bolted of course. Better still, the internet now makes it really easy to bring such companies to account and publicly embarrass them when they get out of line.

I once had occasion to complain to an Internet telephone company who had debited my account of around 200 yuan but whose software didn’t work (they later managed to fix the bug). They decided that as I hadn’t used their service for 6 months they would zero my account and I would have to pay again if I wanted to attempt to use their service. I complained, but they repeatedly ignored my messages. So I wrote a blog about them which I publicized widely. And lo and behold, having previously told me “it was their policy” to zero inactive accounts, they immediately paid back the money.

A major Middle Eastern airline used to be top of my list of companies wherever I flew in the world. Their service was faultless. But then they grew complacent and started treating their passengers as a nuisance rather than the source of their income. I, and many other bloggers, started campaigning against their disgusting premier lounge facilities at their home base; and finally they have woken up to the fact that they are getting very bad publicity from the Internet and have started to do something about it.

My worry, though, is that selfish and callous behavior seems endemic all around the world. It’s surely just a matter of degree of how much of a baddie someone is.

In the UK not that long ago, there was a major scandal when it was revealed that a number of MPs, whose job it is to make the laws that everyone has to follow, were cheating on their expense claims. They seemed to think it was perfectly OK to steal, as long as no one found them out. In the event, some were forced out of office and prosecuted. And jolly good too. The problem is, as they say, it doesn’t matter who you vote for – the politicians always get in!

But what about closer to home? Everywhere I go in Beijing I see cars parked on pavements – supposedly the domain of pedestrians. When I cross a road at a major junction, and a green light shows that pedestrians have the right of way, it is the norm for right-turning traffic to all but mow you down as they refuse to wait for the road to clear. Why should drivers think they are more important than pedestrians who have had to wait their turn to cross?

Right across the Arabian Gulf too, road manners are visible by their absence. If you have the temerity to drive at the permitted maximum speed, you can bet your bottom dollar (or riyal or dirham) that you will soon have another driver on your tail flashing you with his headlights and trying to force you off the road so he can overtake.

Selfishness can take many forms.

So before we all tut-tut about the bad guys who give us bad service, impose their rule on others, or act in some other reprehensible way, perhaps we should stop for just a second and consider whether our own selfish acts are any different in reality from those that we like to castigate and bring to justice.

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