Leo D'Angelo Fisher Columnist

Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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The ‘little Buddha’ principle

Published 23 April 2012 12:56, Updated 26 April 2012 04:15

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A teacher’s conference in Britain has been told that children’s behaviour has deteriorated since the abolition of corporal punishment 25 years ago. Teachers argued that detention does not deter pupils and suspensions can only be applied in the most serious cases because otherwise too many children would be suspended.

One teacher told the conference he did not advocate the return of corporal punishment, but nonetheless observed that new methods of sanction did not have “the same effect as a deterrent for inappropriate behaviour as corporal punishment”.

Children’s behaviour has deteriorated in particular over the past few years, delegates were told, with errant behaviour including “persistent, low-level rudeness and disruption”. Teacher’s union general secretary Mary Bousted complained that pupils were behaving like spoilt “little Buddhas” and she blamed over-indulgent parents. “Far too many children are waited on hand and foot,” she said. (I’m quoting from a story by Jessica Shepherd in The Guardian and reprinted in The Age on April 6, 2012.)

The politically correct view on smacking children is that it shouldn’t happen – and the shriller opponents of a clip over the ear in response to little Jaxxon pulling on Cinnamon’s pig tails say it should be outlawed.

I’m not convinced that the state should impose itself on the right and judgement of parents who feel that a smack on the bottom is in order, but I’m happy to see corporal punishment out of the school system, if only because it was a right that was open to abuse by teachers.

However, the story did cause me to ponder on the little-Buddha syndrome, although my concern was not so much spoilt little brats at school, but the young adults those brats become.

I cannot believe how rude, inconsiderate and outright offensive so many young adults can be. And I get the impression that their don’t-give-a-damn behaviour, and their ability to get away with it, has given licence to older people who should know better to behave likewise. They have presumably decided that if you can’t beat them, join them.

In a society which has become far too self-conscious to insist on norms of decorum to guide behaviour in public, what began as a welcome relaxation of tired and rigid strictures has given way to anything goes – underpinned by the attitude that if you are inconvenienced or offended: tough.

Whether it is in the workplace, in public spaces or on public transport, these loud, inconsiderate, irresponsible, invasive slobs rule with abandon. They come from no one quarter of society and they flaunt their rudeness like some perverse prize of unfettered liberty. And it’s not just on public transport, where a certain anonymity may embolden the less considerate.

In many workplaces, there is little or no consideration for the amenity of colleagues or respect for their working environment, especially in those wretched open-plan offices. Loud, hysterical conversation – particularly on Casual Fridays – fills the air. So do irritating ring tones on people’s ever-present mobile phones, and the loud, inane conversations that follow.

At certain times of the day, some workplaces feel, smell and sound like cafeterias – and not very pleasant ones. I hear this all the time, but anyone affronted by boorish co-workers tucking into their breakfast cereal or lunch-time curry at their desks feels helpless to do anything about it. And when employers attempt to modify behaviour in the workplace with formal rules – as well as provide kitchen facilities and lounges – it’s very likely they will end up on Today Tonight as employers from hell. (Although it is also true that some employers go too far.)

But wait; I haven’t finished griping about public transport. Behaviour on the train defies belief or understanding.

Passengers, young and old, no longer feel the slightest obligation to keep their music devices in check. On a typical journey, passengers throughout the carriage will have their earphones on full blast. From their devices, the incoherent tinny “music” assaults the senses of those who would prefer to sit in silence reading or allowing their thoughts to wander.

Thoughtless passengers resting their feet on seats opposite could once be characterised as being of a “certain type”, but now it’s common to see young men in suits or young women in their office wear, and sometimes not so young, doing likewise. Inevitably, these days, the footwear will be monstrously sized running shoes.

I cannot fathom it: how can someone dressed for work not realise that others who are likewise dressed do not want to sit on their sludge?

Passengers on crowded trains canoodling are disgusting. Who are these people trying to impress? We get it. You’re madly in love. Well guess what: it won’t last. And in the meantime, you’re making me sick. Do you mind? Break it up until you get home.

Passengers constantly sniffing (whatever happened to hankies?), cracking their knuckles, having loud conversations on their mobiles, and eating pungent foods: ugh! Enough! A few nights ago on the train, it was around 8.00pm, having just left work – Editor, please note – and a gaggle of giggling office workers got on board with steaming bags of take-away food and they sat right behind me. Moving didn’t help. The smell – and the noise – infested the entire cabin.

How can it not occur to inconsiderate passengers that they are imposing their rudeness on fellow passengers? And why does the train service operator permit this unruly behaviour to happen? If only its inspectors were as assiduous about stamping out inconsiderate behaviour on their trains as they are at hassling passengers to present their tickets at the most inconvenient times.

Now here’s a theory I’ve been nursing. Is it reasonable to expect that these inconsiderate and intemperate slobs, whether work-station gourmets or train-station canoodlers, can be relied upon to be fully productive and engaged employees? Can you have one attitude when it comes to personal decorum in public and another when it comes to performance at work?

I suspect that the answer is ‘no’. Which leads me to Toyota’s recent decision to make redundant 350 workers from its Altona, Melbourne, plant, based on criteria including attendance, safety record, skill, work quality and cultural fit.

Toyota could have handled the sackings more sensitively and respectfully. Nobody deserves to be humiliated the way Toyota’s employees were – the use of security guards, the bussing of employees to be interviewed at an external location, the cold interviews. And it is not for me to assert that everyone who lost their job deserved to. But given that the redundancies had been flagged and were clearly linked to operational factors, it stands to reason that Toyota would want to let its worst performers go. And dare I say it, least pleasant workers?

It’s quite possible that I’ve spent time with some of the ex-Toyota workers on the train.

Do you agree? Write and tell me your views.

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