rolade's blog

Opinion and Decision Making

I’m writing this at La Bresse, a skiing town in the north-east of France, while waiting for my husband and sons to descend from the slopes so that we can have a late lunch together. From time to time I glance at the constant queue of skiers at the automatic machine and “caisse” (where you pay your half or day pass). An hour ago, a male staff came and advised the waiting men and women that there’s another automatic machine at the other side of the building next to the restaurant. No one moved and it’s because either they didn’t believe him or thought that the situation next to the resto could change any minute and the queue would even be longer.

Why did they decide not to go to the other automatic machine which didn’t have a queue? Every day we decide on food, clothes, words, what to do with whom, where and when, etc. We make decisions on matters that range from simple routine to usually significant issue. Generally, our decision making is a product of our intuition (what we feel and believe is right at the moment), experience (heuristic approach) or knowledge (acquired from learning, objective information from experts and experience).

For nearly a month now, the French media have been having a party reporting on the immigration of its world-famous actor, Mr. Gerard Depardieu, to Belgium where taxes are lower than in France. Some French nationals have the opinion that Mr. Depardieu should be strapped of his citizenship as it’s unpatriotic to deprive your country of its needed financial resource at the time when it needs it most. Such an opinion is subjective with moral and philosophical dimensions, which is not shared by the majority of the residents.

Environmental and economic factors contribute to racism and xenophobia

«You told us Australians are cool, considerate, welcoming and simply easy-go-lucky. Have you seen today’s newspaper L’essentiel?” my Belgian student said while taking off his jacket. After he had sat down, he added, “You will be shy, as an Australian, of what they did to the French tourists.” (I suggested the word “embarrass” instead of shy).

Right after leaving his company, I rushed to get the copy of L’essentiel, the most read newspaper in Luxembourg because it’s free and easily accessible (it’s in stands and distributors in strategic places, such as bus stops, train stations, airports, shopping centres and supermarkets). Page 2 of its 23/11/12 issue had an article about the verbal harassment of xenophobic nature against a young French woman by bus passengers in Melbourne. It had a photo with this caption, “La video de cette aggression sur www.insultes.lessentiel.lu. I did watch this video and, in the beginning, felt embarrass. As the video was coming to an end, however, I started to reminisce on positive Aussie qualities and multiculturalism. I salute the fellow who filmed the incident! Xenophobia (fear of people who are different from the majority in the population) exists Down Under, but it’s not widespread and not tolerated by the general Australian population.

The last 4 years of my public service job in Australia, before moving to Europe, were spent participating in many working parties, policy development, debates and activities geared towards eradicating racism and discrimination. Though governments and many Australians endeavour to have a just, fair and tolerant society, there’s still a lot that can be done.

Appraisal, Performance Review, Bonus and Rewards

November and December are appraisal months, and I was not surprise to receive an email from our Director of Studies about my face-to-face, one-to-one, formal appraisal tomorrow afternoon. Yesterday, an acquaintance complained how his manager waited for the yearly appraisal to tell him that he can only take smoking breaks twice a day instead of thrice. The day before, I was invited to lunch by a friend who spent an hour talking about her disappointment in getting a C in her appraisal. Hoping for a B, she was even more disenchanted when her manager said, “80% of the staff got C”. She thought her boss considered her as a valuable employee belonging to 10% of the efficient and loyal personnel.

As the day turned to night, I heard more appraisal-related stories. For instance, one of my trainees reported his manager saying, “It’s going to be the same for everybody — no promise of a bonus and no negative feedback”.

Most employers use appraisal (annually, semi-annually or quarterly) to assess performance, give employees the opportunity to discuss work-related issues in confidence and motivate them to link their performance to their organisation’s objectives and goals. Some companies use appraisal outcomes to reward financially or promote employees. Some employees use the positive results when applying for a job or promotion.

Appraisal is not only about previous achievements but defining new objectives in the coming year, especially with changes in economic situation, staffing level, market forces, etc. People I have spoken to are either optimistic or cynical about appraisals. Generally, an employee on a trial period, contractual arrangement or in an insecure position takes the appraisal seriously as it is a formal process with documented results that can be used to rehire or fire. However, those who have been in their job for a long time may find it “more of the same” or a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Effects of weather, temperature on moods and suicide

Weather, temperature, moods and well-being... It was the last day of October, the temperature was 2°C at 8am and I was freezing but couldn’t go back home to get my gloves as I didn’t want to miss my bus and be late for work. It is supposed to be autumn (US “fall”), but winter has definitely arrived and our heater has been switched on prematurely. According to my Belgian student, the suicide rate in his country is highest in November and this is lower than in December because of the jolly Christmas atmosphere and brightly-lit and colourfully-decorated streets and shops.

The change in season and weather condition (such as rain, duration of daylight & sunlight and humidity) has been considered as contributing factors to suicide. Some studies have tried to prove that suicides are more frequent in hot days because of heat-related behaviours, such as excitability and alcohol drinking. Some researchers, however, suppose that suicides emerge during winter and peak in summer.

Every year, there are about one million individuals who successfully suicide; and there are more men and women in these statistics. The World Health Organisation data reveal that 6 of the top ten countries with high suicide rates are developing nations of Eastern Europe with Lithuania in the first place (42/100,00: 16.1 men and 10.4 women) whereas developing nations with hot weather, such as Philippines and Haiti, have low suicide rates.

Awards and Prizes

Last Thursday, I was invited to the Warwick University (UK) Academic Excellence Award Ceremony. It was much smaller than the similar occasion at Sorbonne University I attended in 2011, but it was just as awesome observing the cream of the crop received their certificate of recognition, listening to the quartet while socialising and drinking, and watching gifted and talented young people interact with each other and wondering what they will become. With a population of about 13, 000 undergraduate students, only 61 from the Faculties of Arts, Science and Social Sciences were publicly congratulated during this annual occasion (about 0.5%). The figure is even less in other educational institutions, and not all gifted students are awarded considering that there are about 2% of them. Is it unfair to give awards to just a few? Should we celebrate students’ excellent achievements?

Though we are accustomed to giving awards and prizes from elementary (e.g. honours) to tertiary education (e.g. scholarships), not all educators agree to this practice, and there’s a growing number of them who think this is a form of elitism. One argument is that this promotes individual success as opposed to group accomplishment or teamwork. They question the impact of this practice to those who don’t get awards even when they work hard?

Gender and friendship: can women and men be close friends?

Posted on October 6, 2012 on BRolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com

  • “Men and women can’t be real friends,” Pierre, a gentle French man in his late 20s, insisted.
  • “There’s always that sexual dimension that makes male-female friendship impossible,” chimed in Guido, an Italian banker in his early 40s.
  • “I had to cut contact with my close female friend because my wife was jealous of her,” revealed Michael, a Belgian in his mid 30s.
  • “It depends where you live. In my village in the south of Spain, men and women get together and dance as friends, only friends no more,” argued Jose.

(We always start our Business English class with current events. Unusually, last week, my students were more interested in talking about male-female friendship than the economic crisis in the Euro Zone).

Though views on friendship vary from culture to culture, generally, such relationship between men and women is less common and more complex than same-sex friendship.

Friendship between men and women is viewed with suspicion because of cultural social and physiological realities. In films, friends always fall in love or end up in bed, which has either a happy or disastrous ending. Our education and socialisation encourage gender division in terms of physical and emotional needs and ways to attain these. There’s a prevailing belief that men, by biological nature, are more sexual thus more likely to have more than one partner.

Some individuals use friendship as a camouflage to their emotional insecurity and other psychological handicaps. They need a female friend (or friends) other than their partner as they didn’t experience emotional stability while growing up, they never witnessed their parent’s love and devotion to each other, or they were deprived of their mother’s care and attention. Meanwhile, are these not just excuses for a selfish desire that is responsible for some divorces and failed relationships, which have disturbing consequences, especially when children are involved.

Fat-Finger Syndrome

Fat-finger syndrome is work and health issue.

Have you sent an unfinished email?
Have you forwarded a correspondence to the wrong addressee?
Have you accidentally deleted a file?
Have you bought or ordered items that you don’t want?

These mistakes are called fat finger syndrome - errors made by hitting the wrong key or button on a keyboard, which can be inconvenient (e.g. rescheduling a meeting), costly (e.g. trader typing an extra zero to a share to be sold confusing the stock exchange) and even deadly (domestic violence or crime due to a discovered extra-conjugal relationship or lie).

Tailor-made curriculum to address students' insecurity and distress

Tuition, quality of education, choice of school/university and institutional policies (e.g. funding/resources, pedagogy – online & blended instruction) are some of the education issues often discussed in most European countries as the school year starts in September. The beginning of the school year can be exciting or worrying depending on where you live and your individual situation: In Greece, for example, some university students have dropped out of their studies due to lack of adequate finance. In Spain, families who never passed on used school bags and supplies to other siblings have done it this year. In Germany, however, parents enthusiastically file at the checkouts with trolleys filled with school paraphernalia and items to help their children have a good academic year.

Anywhere in the world, the education playing field is not level and students are not homogenous. About 2% of the student population are gifted and talented, about 5% of them are from high-income families; and there are bipolar, autistic, slightly impaired and emotionally fragile among them. With our globalised world, it’s fairly common to find more than one religion, culture and language in every classroom. With the divorce rate of 40-50% and advent of other kinds of family arrangement (single parents, same-sex couples, restructured families), children face different challenges at school. There are many happy families but there are also those whose routine includes: couples disputing on subjects that range from money to infidelity, children experiencing abuse and intolerance, etc. As well, due to the financial crises and current volatile economic condition, many parents have lost their jobs, others may have the same fate soon, while some have been forced to move to other places and transferred their children to a new school. These circumstances impact on the children’s behaviour and their capacity to learn and perform at school.

Multipurpose summer holiday: intensive courses, sporting competitions, family, friends, charity, networking

Séjours linguistiques (language trainings), intensive courses in subjects that range from mathematics to personal development and sporting activities (close to 1 million visitors to London during the Olympics Games of which about 300,000 from overseas + 5.5 million day trippers + 10,500 athletes and 7,500 officials) are some of this year’s summer holiday interests.

My acquaintance and her husband plan their annual summer holiday around chess tournaments. They visit beautiful towns in France and nearby European cities while their 15 year-old-son collects trophies. Gone are the days when the sole destination was the beach, mountain, touristic spots or entertainment park to relax and have fun. Consciously, or otherwise, we engage in a multipurpose holiday, e.g. our travel luggage includes a laptop, net/notebook, iPod, Nintendo, headsets and other electronic gadgets. Do we really need these gadgets when our main goal is to have a nice break from work, school or a routine activity (especially strenuous one)?

Here in France, friends (sometimes even strangers) constantly ask each other these questions “When are you going on holiday?” “Where will you spend your summer vacation?”-- which are not easy to answer when you’re going nowhere. As well, these are always followed by further questions and comments, such as “Are you working all summer?” as if you’ve been punished for being inefficient; “Your children will be bored for 2 months” as if they didn’t have parents, siblings, toys, nearby parks and local activities to keep them busy. Sometimes it’s not enough to mention a place; it has to be abroad – such as England, Spain and other top country destinations!

There are many worthwhile activities during the summer holiday period aside from consuming artificially high-priced accommodation, airline tickets and entertainment. One of my trainees has just left Luxembourg as a participant of a one-month car rally in Mongolia. He’s so delighted that his summer holiday has raised money for charities through sponsorships and donations. In last nights’ news there was a segment about students working for nursing homes as volunteers this summer.

Pleasure and not pressure at work

A paid employment is necessary – it’s an indispensable work as it provides an individual with an income, self identity and social status. Due to some societal changes and the financial crises, the pleasure of being in a paid employment has been replaced with pressure, stress and race for survival. The original idea connected with the Protestant work ethic of independence and saving has disappeared, and what’s left is hard work and competition. Most of us are busy earning money hence we have no or little time for leisure.

Unlike workaholics, we rely on periodic leisure (which is associated with holiday as the British call it; “vacation” American) to spice our employment. I rarely hear of employees raving about having the pleasure of working. It’s not only money that makes our work environment pleasurable. It may not be possible to get pleasure from all our daily tasks, however, we can see the glass half full in times of pressure when we have a good sense of humour and take time to relax. There’s also pleasure, instead of pressure, when we have a shared interest (e.g. sports, entertainment, arts) with our colleagues, update our work station (e.g. new photos on our desk and fosters on the wall), vary our office snacks and meals, dress up differently and change our lunch activities from time to time (e.g. picnic in the nearby park or trip to the swimming pool and a quick sandwich).

As I mentioned in my previous article, I didn’t have internet access for 10 days by choice. I leisurely explored the mountains and lakes in Scotland and played a typical tourist in England. The 12-day holiday with my family was fantastic though I really didn’t need it as a break from my paid employment. A staycation would have been leisurely productive and pleasurably relaxing. This is because I enjoy what I do for a living. We can only have fun with our job when we are passionate about it. Can we instil passion in our work? How can we handle pressure and obtain pleasure when we aren’t passionate about our employment?

Why do you work? Are you happy in your job?

Worthiness of employment (job) and work “Que gagne-t-on en travaillant?” was one of the philosophy questions in last Monday’s Baccalaureate (high school diploma) French exam.

When I was in Australia, I often heard people whinging about neighbours and acquaintances who received unemployment benefits from the government but were too lazy to work (known as dole bludgers). Some people enjoy working but dislike their job. Working is not synonymous with employment (job). Work is any activity involving the use of effort to achieve a goal, such as to repaint the house or to earn money. A work may not be a job but a job requires working.

Job, e.g. teaching or bus driving, is specific referring to a particular employment. Repainting your house during your free time is work but not your job (employment), which can give you satisfaction and joy. Work can sometimes be un-enjoyable also that’s why we often describe it as the opposite of play, e.g. cleaning toilets at home.

Back to the French philosophy question: what do you gain by working? by having a job? I hope that our French high school graduating students, after 4 hours of writing about this topic under the watchful eyes of Education Departmental staff and detectors, acquired a more positive attitude and behavior towards work and employment in the midst of a bleak economic reality. What happened to our ‘Right to Work’ philosophy, “Just Wage for Fair Work” ethics and socially-responsible business model?

Love gone wild! mad!

“Love Gone Wild” (Experiences, causes, dealing with domestic violence) -- visit my website BRolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com Victims and perpetrators are anywhere in the world from all cultural, social, economic and professional situations, ages and sexual orientations.

“Don’t ring me at home. We have been staying in a shelter since Tuesday,” she said to me with watery eyes a fortnight ago. For over 30 minutes, I listened to her non-stop revelation of violence that led her and their teenage daughter to the police station at 2AM. Love gone wild? mad? I wasn’t completely shocked as I never heard him speak nicely of /to her -- only criticisms that range from her lack of intelligence to her humble beginning in Eastern Europe (a pattern/signal that is often ignored).

In France, 6 women-victims of domestic violence die every month. In the UK, a woman is killed every 3 days in this way; and in Germany 3 women every four days (mondediplo.com seen 20 June 2012) whilst US statistics average 3 women every day.

Education and Exams: Hidden Costs and Real Gains

Tutoring, coaching, visit to the psychologist, stress, anxiousness, tiredness, library, revision and study are among the frequently used words we’ve been hearing from our European students and their parents. Grades 4 & 5 (CM 1 & 2) pupils in France took the compulsory national evaluation in French and Maths early this week. High school graduating candidates in many European countries, e.g. Luxembourg, have started their end of the year exams. Likewise, university students in most EU countries are currently inundated with tests, exams and deadlines for essays and assignments.

Last year in France, a father lost his job for aiding his son cheat in the final senior high school Baccalaureate (le Bac)* math exam. The former French Education Minister Luc Chatel wanted prison sentences for those who leaked Bac math exam questions when in fact it’s the education system and examination process that should be reformed. What will the newly elected socialist government do about this?

*Bac is equivalent to A Levels in the UK and High School Diploma in most countries. In France, subjects are graded up to 20: a score of 16 and above is Highest Honour (in French "mention trés bien"); 14 – 15.99 High Honour ("mention bien"); 12 – 13.99 Honour ("mention assez bien"); Below 10 is failure - students either retake the exam or reorient their career to non-academic fields.

Election, Political Debates, Chess and Sports(hu)manship

It has been a week since France has elected its President and much has been said about this and the impact of the new government’s socialist policies locally and in Europe. I’m not going to use my crystal ball to find out which election promises are likely to be kept and not; like many in France, I now wait and see!

Several countries are having elections this year and one of them is Egypt (May 23-24, 2012). Last Thursday, Egypt had its first presidential debate between candidates Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Abul Fotouh. I missed the live TV coverage; based on media reports, they clashed and traded accusations about their group affiliation, role of religion and democratic reforms.

Whereas, I watched the nearly 3 hours of presidential debate between Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Hollande and was entertained by their discourse aimed at pitching votes. There were moments when I felt disappointed with their swinging of mud at each other. Three days later, however, their attitude and behaviour changed – no more insults and accusations. Both of them delivered their after-election speeches graciously, with courtesy and without negative, sarcastic remarks. The elected president is not anymore the critical ex-presidential candidate. Likewise, the outgoing president is a good sport inviting the incoming president to join him at the May 8 WW2 commemoration day. The 2 ex-rivals marched side by side laying wreaths appearing like they’ve always liked each other. What a pity that this spirit of sports(hu)manship was not evident before the election.

Morality, Ethics and Gender

“Are Women More Moral Than Men?” was the title of the Sun’s article last April 17. According to this write-up, the study of Prof. Roger Steare (Corporate Philosopher at Cass Business School in London) involving 60,000 volunteers demonstrates that women and the over 30s have a higher moral attitude. This is because women consider the feelings of others (thus, in many instances put their own needs last) while men are self-interested and have an individual approach in decision making.

Morality refers to the principles of right conduct (‘refer’ because it’s not objective) which is independent of the law, and instead are codes set by the society and accepted by individuals for their own behaviour. Some people have lost opportunities and employment due to their immoral or unethical decision or misjudgment of what the society considers right (good) and wrong (bad). In France, for instance, it is believed that if Mr. Dominique Strauss Khan didn’t face legal battles for allegations of sexual misconducts, he would be a strong candidate in this year’s presidential election.

Morality is associated with ethics because the latter is a form of moral philosophy – i.e. what you should do as a boss, friend, parent, child, teacher, citizen or professional person in a given situation. There are cases when what’s ethical is immoral, e.g. slavery in the ancient time and today’s so called ‘donations’ to gain business contracts.

Syndicate content