Personal Responsibility - Part One, Pass the Buck

So I haven't posted for quite a while because currently I am blocked from blogspot in China. My fiance offered to post my blog for me, which is great as I have an awful lot to write about. This blog is sort of serving as my personal forum for my ethnographic field notes this trip, because I have no paper to write this time.

Either my parents did a really good job, or a really bad job with me, because I have a very strong sense that I need to do everything I can to not inconvenience other people. Maybe it was Girl Scouts and believing that you should always leave a place better than when you found it. In college I realized that a lot of people really lack this sense of personal responsibility for the welfare of yourself and others, and environmental conditions. I was the person who when our communal kitchen sink was stacked with dishes, before our RA would throw them out I would spend Saturday morning cleaning them all. I remember thinking... if I wash them, so they don't get thrown out, then that kinda makes them mine, and I get to use them. Not like I put them in my room or anything. So what in about a month or two there was the stack or anonymous dishes again. I would also walk on the sidewalk and pick up every torn poster, or posters where the event had already occurred.

I think what would often run through peoples minds when they walk over posters, or neglect to clean the dishes is : "These are not mine, they do not belong to me, so they are not my problem to take care of." There are even some people who have no sense of responsibility to clean up a problem they personally created.

During my later years in college I was introduced to another reason people might not feel responsible for their messes, or those of others. Economics. I had a conversation with a friend (classical economist, people think wrong and an open economy will fix all of our problems and make everything fair type) about hiring someone to clean your house. He was reasoning that there was nothing wrong with hiring someone to do this type of work for you. The professor who sat briefly at the table agreed, and said the only reason you would logically choose not to do this, is to teach your children to do these things for themselves.

Perhaps that is why my friend walked over those posters for all four years of his college career, because he was completely aware that the school paid people to clean up for him, and that to him his time is more valuable than that of the people who are paid to do this. A person who didn't understand economics could even argue that I was taking someones paying job away from them, by picking up those posters on my own free time. But that would be untrue, it simply opens up time for the people who would be pulling posters of the sidewalk to work on something else, or if it did eliminate a job, it would open up money for the college to employ someone else who's job was needed. To me this is one of the best economic arguments for not hiring someone, the money can be used more resourcefully. One alternate use would be to donate the money saved to improve living conditions of people who you might be hiring to take care of your dirty work.

To me in China many people see messes that others made, or that they made as being someone else's responsibility. There are street sweepers in every city in China, ever school has staff that clean, and many people hire A-yi's to clean their homes. This handing of money to someone else passes the responsibility for these messes from one person to another. While I think that if I ever need to I would like to be able to hire someone to help me clean my house, or a gardener, I would only do so if I were incapable of doing the job myself because of working, or because of difficulty with mobility. I feel a sense of responsibility towards not only talking care of myself and the messes that I make, or the things that I choose to do. I feel that even in paying someone to assist me, in the end, these things are still my personal responsibility not theirs.

I have seen many examples of people here in China not feeling this way at all. When I first started learning the language, I had a lot of difficulty using the word 服务员 fu2wu4yuan2 meaning attendant/waitress. I have no idea of how I knew in the seventh grade how it was often used, maybe there were examples in the book, or maybe I had heard people use the term when I was younger. Maybe it was just the same distinction in English. I don't usually say "Waitress!" I will say "Excuse me... excuse me... excuse me..." Until I get someone's attention. But the term is used here in a tone of impatience, and sometimes hostility. This seems to be changing, younger people do not speak to service workers in this way as often. I see most younger people put their trash into trash cans or into their bag. Although some people's behavior certainly hasn't changed. I thoroughly enjoyed watching a driver (who clearly owned a nice car so driving was not likely his job,) pitch a half bottle of soda out his window while waiting to pick someone up outside of a school. I decided to teach him a lesson. There are maybe around ten foreigners in this small city, so I stand out quite a bit. I walked up grabbed the bottle and put it in the nearby recycling trash can. I hope it made an impression on the driver.

Also many more privileged people here are not aware of how to do simple tasks for themselves. I am often greeted by surprise when I tell someone I moved my furniture, fixed my toilet, put up my mosquito net, or did one of many other simple tasks by myself. Often hired help will come in and assist someone, or if someone is younger their parents do these tasks for them. Unfortunately I found that often the people hired have no sense of responsibility towards these tasks either. Often things I asked be fixed are jerry rigged in place, or cleaning I see done with water and no bleach. I think this is not uncommon. Unfortunately this passing the buck results in no one seeming to taking ownership and responsibility, and it seems to effect living conditions quite a bit. But that's a whole nother topic, for another day :)

1 comment:

Clinton said...

What a wonderful post and a philosophy for life.

It's people like you that make communes work... and its the self-proclaimed entitled that make it a mess.

(Not a political comment, just a philosophical one on helping out others.)