Somebody Else’s Problem — Decision Making in China

China-smogOnce long ago I was inter­viewed for a job as lan­guage direc­tor of the Defence Coop­er­a­tion Lan­guage School in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. (The place pre­tends to teach Eng­lish in three months or so to exchange mil­i­tary offi­cers from places like Indone­sia). It was a pret­ty strange detour for me from a life­long aver­sion to rigid orga­ni­za­tions, and need­less to say I didn’t get the job. What I most­ly remem­ber is being told that I’d have to wear a tie every day (they dis­qual­i­fied them­selves right then). But I also recall being advised by a lugubri­ous air force offi­cer that the main qual­i­ty sought was some­one who would mind their own busi­ness. “In this place”, he intoned, “you must under­stand that most issues you will encounter will be some­body else’s prob­lem. Above all, you must nev­er try to solve some­body else’s prob­lems”. His impli­ca­tion of course was that absolute­ly every pos­si­ble issue of respon­si­bil­i­ty should be shuf­fled away as some­body else’s prob­lem. It is the bureaucrat’s dai­ly prayer. The fel­low would have been in heav­en in Chi­na.

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