One widely-reported news story from the past few days really caught my eye. Last week, on the hottest day of the year so far, a group of schoolboys from Longhill High School in Brighton were found wearing their P.E. shorts to keep cool – they were either put into isolation or sent home to change into long trousers. The next day, they exploited a loophole and turned up to school wearing skirts in protest. Because skirts were part of the normal uniform, they were not punished for doing so.
If any of the boys in the news story are reading this – I salute you with the full, extended Rimmer salute reserved only for the extremely important!
Naturally, when such a story is syndicated to a number of news outlets, you get to see the reactions from, as Dave Gorman puts it, the “bottom half of the Internet”. I’ve had a poke at Daily Mail readers before, but this time I was actually quite impressed: the overall majority were equally supportive and applauding! Were they REALLY Daily Mail readers? I was at least expecting an “in my day, they’d have gotten the cane for such insolence” or yet another diatribe about being a “real man”.
It was fun reading the minority of comments that did take issue. In their view, this was not pragmatism but disobedience. The boys disobeyed the rules and then flaunted their disobedience by exploiting a loophole; this behaviour would not be tolerated in the “real world” where they will have to do as they’re told, “man up” (two words that, when used together, always get my hackles up) and get on with it because “life is tough”. I love comments like these… more specifically, I love throwing a bucket of cold water on comments like these.
The modern workplace has moved on significantly in the past fifty years: co-operation and teamwork is valued far above blind obedience. In the private sector, competition is everything and you’ve got to move faster than your competitors if you want to overtake them. To do so, innovation and creativity are essential and companies are often on the lookout for individuals who won’t just “do the job” but “improve the job”. These boys have demonstrated their ability to think laterally – a much-desired skill among employers.
Besides, in the modern world, there is no such thing as automatic or unconditional authority: those who are in a position of authority have to justify said authority, and should be prepared to do so when questioned. The decisions and requests they make should be reasonable, but also flexible and accommodating to the expertise and experience of their subordinates. No manager or supervisor knows everything, and there is no “my way or the highway”. If their rules or expectations are unreasonable or not of sound judgement, their authority should indeed be challenged.
As for “manning up” and “doing as you’re told” because “life is tough”: that’s nothing but a self-defeating philosophy. If you’ve resigned yourself to being a quiet and obedient sheep, life will be tough because you’re not willing to take any responsibility in improving it. This is why conservatism is dying out in favour of progressivism – as a society in general, we are prepared to co-operate, think creatively and challenge tradition for both personal and mutual benefit.
Welcome to the real real world!