I visited two of my past host parents recently. As my host mother got ready to go to work at a pharmacy, I noticed that she was packing things into a bag made of thick, clear plastic. She explained: “Oh, the pharmacy has had a problem with employees stealing things, so all the staff have to use these bags now.”
That reminded me of the students at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Ever since the shooting at their school, students have to use clear backpacks, to make it harder to hide weapons in them.
These so-called “solutions” are what New Zealanders might call an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. These are measures that ignore examining the real cause of the problem. If you accidentally fell off a cliff, an ambulance at the bottom could help you, but on the other hand, you could also be very dead. A much better solution would be a sturdy barrier at the top of the cliff. In the case of the pharmacy, getting to know staff better might help curb thefts. In the case of preventing school shootings? Well, that debate still rages on in the U.S.
Clear bags are not only a privacy issue. They also give the impression that no one can be trusted, which leads to feelings of resentment and distrust, creating a negative environment.
Women-only train cars are another example of an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Although these cars create a safer space for women, they also create the sense that the majority of men can’t be trusted. And that men shouldn’t take personal responsibility for their behaviour. Instead of addressing the issue of why some men feel it’s okay to assault women, women are asked to take responsibility for their own safety by taking refuge in a women-only car.
Many big businesses in Japan have also been forcing their employees to go home at 5 p.m. once a week. Now there’s a drone that can fly around your office, blasting out Auld Lang Syne, the song traditionally used in shops to gently tell customers that it’s time to leave. Such businesses do this without considering things like work culture, workload and wages and salaries. Many of my students still feel that they need to look like they’re busy when they’re not. And the most efficient workers often end up with less take-home pay as many rely on overtime to earn enough to provide for themselves and their families.
Clear bags, women-only cars, enforced knock-off times. These quick fixes might be easy to implement, but until we commit to understanding, repairing and strengthening the human relationships behind these problems, our solutions will continue to be ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. (Samantha Loong)