Sunday, November 12, 2006

One Thing I Learned in US - Equal Respect For All Jobs

It is almost 6 years since I came to the US. Six years have taught me a lot in life. I had some great opportunities to see the good and worst of the American culture.

There are a lot of ills in American society but the six years of stay in US have made me understand that they are so many good values in American culture and the good ones outclass the bad. I believe that it is due to these good values that America could become the most developed country.

One of the things I like in America is the respect they give for all jobs. Be a bus driver, engineer, professor, office assistant or businessman you get the same respect. But is it like that in India?

My neighbor in my apartment is a meat cutter. Whenever we meet him he talks passionately about his job. He talks why he likes this job and all that stuff. He takes so much pride in his job. But in India does a meat cutter ever take pride of his job? Does he get any respect in the society?

Majority of Indians have a wrong concept of jobs. It is 60 years since British left India but the concept of master-slave mentality still exists. Most of the senior officials in the Government sector have official car with a driver. Most of the times when the official comes near the car the driver has to keep the door open and in some cases salute him. Why can’t that official open the car? The official thinks that driver being in the lower level of job hierarchy compared to him has to show respect to him this way. Isn’t it a kind of slavery?

Most of the offices in India have peons. The main job they do in office is to transfer files from one cubicle to another within the office and also provide snacks to all employees. I have seen so many times these people are treated with utter disrespect. They are not even allowed to sit in front of the other higher-grade employees.

Compare what I describe above to this one. There is this office of a mechanical engineering professor next to my lab. I have seen so many times the janitor who comes to our floor to clean the offices goes to this professors office, pulls a chair, sits there and talks to him. I don’t know what they talk but the point here is that a janitor in US can sit in front of a professor and talk. Can we imagine such a thing happening in India? Can a peon working in India can ever pull up a chair; sit in front of the professor and talk? If he does that it may be the last time he will be doing that. I believe this concept of equal respect for all job/workers is one of the many things we Indians should learn from the Americans.

The people who come to US from India with this sense of self made pride about the jobs soon realize the hollowness of their pride once they are here. This happened almost 4 years back. One of the Professors from IIT came to my school for sabbatical in the Department of Electrical Engineering. I took him to the Social Security office to get his SSN card after a week he arrived in my school. There was a big queue in the SSN office. I told him to stand at the end of the queue. Instead he went to the security officer and told, “I am a Professor in this school. I am here to get my SSN”. The security officer told him to go and stand in the queue. He again told them about his credentials. The security officer replied, “ If you have come to apply for the SSN you have to stand in the queue. We don’t have a separate line for Professors”. He stood in the queue for more than 1 hour, did all the formalities and came out. On his way back he as so upset that he had to stay in the queue.

Bottom line of my post,
One of the good values that is practiced in US- EQUAL RESPECT FOR ALL JOBS

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point well made!I had thought about this lot of times. It seems it had existed in age old India and as time evolved,it got lost. We all say Namaste or equivalent when we come across elders or strangers or friends. Actually the word 'Namaste' means "The light within me salutes the light within you." If you think of the above meaning, it really really trancends all man made mental barriers such as race, religon, caste ,community, sex, profession etc.
My 2 Cents.
Lakshmi Narayan

November 12, 2006 2:49 AM  
Blogger abhishek said...

The only way this will change is if professionalism is infused into every layer of life in India. As India becomes more liberalized and a bigger part of the global economy, such outdated cultures will die when confronted by professional work cultures.

November 12, 2006 4:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very much in line with another of your post ("Love for white collar jobs"). With that said, the point you mentioned does not lose its importance how many ever times its talked about.

-- GS

November 12, 2006 5:25 AM  
Blogger കേരളഫാർമർ/keralafarmer said...

ഇന്ത്യയില്‍ ഒരു മാറ്റവും പ്രതീക്ഷിക്കണ്ട.

November 12, 2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger Sachin R K said...

I agree with Abhishek. You can visibly see the change in the IT sector in India. There is no shame in accepting the good things from other cultures. Like the Rig Veda tells us "Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah" [Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions]

November 12, 2006 3:07 PM  
Anonymous Vivek Nair said...

Hi Brijesh, Interesting thoughts ! I think when Gandhiji cleaned the toilets in South Africa himself, he was proclaiming to the world that all jobs are equal and also everyone who does whatever kind of job are finally the same - there is no babu/peon or white collar/ blue collar divide. An interesting episode on Friends - serial talks about this same issue when Joey takes a job as a blue jacketed usher in the museum where Ross works as a scientist, initially they were not able to sit at the same table for lunch. And then Ross & Joey breaks that tradition by sitting at the same table and announcing to the others that such a divide based on the job category is just meaningless!

November 12, 2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

We made all these barriers and it is our responsibility to remove them. How many people know the meaning of “Namaste” in India? To be frank I also never knew the meaning of Namaste till now. Good to see you here Lakshmi.

Abhishek-Yes are right. We are seeing this change in IT industry where you call your boss just by name. As we integrate with Indian economy I think all these will change.

GS- I agree that the thread is almost same. But that was about mad love of Keralites about the love for white collar job vs other job. This blog is written from what I have seen here in 6 years. The point of both blogs are same.

Kerala Farmer- things are changing. At least in the IT field. In most of the IT companies all the employees are treated as equal and there is no distinction. As Abhishek and Sachin mentioned things are changing. I believe in another 20 years respect will come for all kinds of jobs.

November 12, 2006 5:28 PM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

Sachin – I have seen few people in India who keeps the view that Western culture is wrong and we should not follow it. The point I wanted to make was there are lot of things in Western Culture we should learn and put into practice. In IT field we are seeing the changes and slowly we should see it in other areas also.

I always believed this concept of babu/peon came from the British. When the British left India the concept of babu/peon remained in India. It is so deep rooted in our society that it will take time to eradicate. But things are changing and I don’t think this concept is there in IT industry.

November 12, 2006 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an aside, it is quite interesting that the concept of natural selection originally proposed by Darwin in his work "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life", still holds up in the current socio-economic environment.

Atleast in the present times one of the not-very-welcome trend is that people tend to move up the value chain (or should I call it "the respectable job chain"!), not by working towards getting recognition to their current jobs/demanding minimum wages which would enable them to lead a decent life but by changing the domain of work. We know that a number of traditional jobs from kerala have already lost its race against s/w (IT/High-tech) jobs. Especially those in the traditional art and craft group.

And we should realize that it would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) for a janitor in India to lead bare minimum life-style, send his kids to school, take care of his family and save something for his kids future just by working at one place. Just like you said, he wouldn't want ot jeopardise his only job by expressing himself and demanding equality. They become easy preys of exploitation by the so called "upper class" people.. This is in sharp contrast to a janitor in the US. He works 40 hrs a week (4pm-12 midnight) in the University, then might be owrking couple of hours else where and making a decent living..

November 12, 2006 6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brijesh, The previous post was mine..once again.. This note is only for those people who find it extremely disturbing to see "totally anonymous" comments!! [:)]

November 12, 2006 6:48 PM  
Anonymous sarath said...

you have made a very valid point in this blog.

But I don't agree with that 'professor' example that you chose. I don't mean any offence to him, but no Indian with some common-sense would do that. He must have done that due to his own self-pride which definitely cannot be generalised to all Indians. Even in India, you don't have a separate line for professors or any such person , say in a railway-ticket queue. Unless, you know someone working there..its same for everyone.

You did make a very valid point in this blog, but chose a wrong real-life example.

November 12, 2006 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats true, Brijesh. Me too felt the same.

This upliftment in self respect levels can happen over a period of time. In India, communist and socialist thinking are the only way to inject the sense of self respect among the masses. You can see the difference in Kerala when compared to the other states in India.

November 13, 2006 8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your articals makes everyone think and thats the reason I have ur blog on my rss.
I think the example you had listed in your blog is very valid, cos I have known people with a position be it a prof or a politician or a bigwig would try to influence the authorities to get their work done. Sadly this would never ever change, cos authorities would need favors from these kinds of people.
I guess we do have to live with this kind of biased perception in India.
It will probably change....

November 13, 2006 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Sportsnob said...

---> But in India does a meat cutter ever take pride of his job? Does he get any respect in the society?

Quick Question: Have you ever interacted with an Indian butcher? Have you stopped by to talk to your truck driver. None of us do.

And honestly I don't think these things are going to change with liberalization blah blah... thats the way we are made. In fact liberalization is going to create a bigger difference between the haves and the have-nots. the haves will continue to live blissfully in their cubicles.

November 13, 2006 5:39 PM  
Blogger ravenwing321 said...

Brijesh chetta....u stole my topic!!
I completly agree with you...indians need to take pride in what they do and they need to get rid of the superior-inferior complex....

good post! :-)

November 14, 2006 1:25 AM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

GS- I could understand it was you by the way you write. The good thing in US is that whatever work you do you can live a decent life here which is not the case in India.

There are so many people whom I saw with such self pride when they come to US. I know of lot of Indians who look down upon graduate student and the hourly jobs they do. Do you know what some of the Indians who come here with job calls the graduate students? – PIGS (Poor Indian Graduate Student). They have least respect for the students who try hard to make both ends meet.

You told there are no separate lines in India and you told about railway station.
In railway station and all, these kinds of people won’t go. They will send their servants. Where ever they go they will use their position to get stuff done.

Anon-communist and socialist thinking as it is practiced in Kerala won’t bring equality. In Kerala there is another peculiar situation existing. If you have a government job you get all the respect. I believe if we follow the true communist and socialistic values things may change.

I can understand the point you are making. The liberalization is only going to increase the gap between haves and have-not. But I believe that economical liberalization will reach a stage when the downtrodden people also get benefit of it. Now the poor in the society is not getting benefit of the liberalization. thanks for stopping by my blog

November 14, 2006 3:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post brijesh. I agree with one of the anons, your blogs are real thought provoking.

To the communist anon. Don't you think the better environment in Kerala is due to the higher literacy and not due to communism/socialism. As everybody knows, communism has one of the most utterly dictatorial regimes in all respects, right from superior-worship to slavery of the masses to dogma. It is my opinion that only education can bring in any kind of change in the social fabric and not political attitudes.


November 14, 2006 4:35 AM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

Ravenwing321- when did you write on this topic? I haven’t seen that. Anyways welcome back to my blog.

Anon- Communist believe that their ideas are the best in the world and no one can change them. They are not ready to listen to anyone and no one can change them. Communism/ socialism as it is practiced now will only make the gap bigger.

November 14, 2006 11:37 AM  
Blogger silverine said...

Our caste system is the reason for grading jobs as high class or menial. We still follow that unconsciously when we deal with people who earn more or less than us. But I think the mentality will change though slowly. Today a plumber or an electrican, mason, etc earn really well!!

November 14, 2006 4:04 PM  
Blogger Gops said...

The professor example is simply superb. Was the professor in his 50's ?
I think it has nothing to do with the motherland. He is just from an earlier generation and refuses to adapt to the changes.

November 14, 2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Swapna said...

Well said. Even if you are a waitress, you get respect here in the US.

November 14, 2006 7:39 PM  
Blogger Swapna said...

Well said. Even if you are a waitress, you get respect here in the US.

November 14, 2006 7:39 PM  
Blogger കേരളഫാർമർ/keralafarmer said...

I will not get any respect in Kerala becuse telling the truth in front of the Public. Like VaarththakaL
through blogs. Click on head line to see another link related with it.

November 15, 2006 6:17 AM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

In earlier years caste played a big role in this discrimination. But I don’t think caste no longer plays that big a role. People show respect to only some kind of jobs irrespective of the caste or religion. It is true that things are changing at a slow pace. But the question is when will all of us start to respect each and every job? My answer is it will take a minimum of 20 to 30 years to see the change.

Gops- Yes he was in the mid 50’s. He had a feeling that he is someone special. But the good thing was he changed a lot in 1 year.

Leave waitress, if you are a dancer in a pub also you get respect. Back in India these kind of people are viewed like a prostitute.

Kerala Farmer-
I have a small advice to you. Instead of having so many blogs if you have one blog then it could turn out to be better. Now you are writing so many similar things in so many places.

November 16, 2006 2:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brijesh -

I think there are a couple of reasons for this behaviour :

1. Lack of education : Like you mentioned, IT is cutting thru this. The exposure that IT folks get to other cultures mitigates this problem to an extent.
2. We do it because our parents and their parents did it. Hence it is wired into our system. Remember that 33% of Indian families are BPL, they do not get even primary education. For such people, it is just in their DNA - no amount of money or age will change it.

Just a quick comment on a previous comment : Namaste is actually derived from Sanskrit

Nama : I bow
S : the highest
The : Yours

Namaste means that I salute the highest in you. It is marginally different from the meaning given earlier.


November 16, 2006 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Hiren said...

This must be one of the best posts I have read in a year and a half of blogging. How right you are. There is a saying " It is always a man who imparts a dignity to a job and not the other way around".In your example, the janitor who spoke to the professor or the meat cutter- they may not be able to do the professor's job at all but the professor maynot be able to do their jobs as well as they do.

I am reading a book called "Why pride matters more than money" which should apply to all jobs.

At the same time, there should be repsct shown to individuals as well and each should choose the career of his liking - Make your passion your profession

November 18, 2006 10:38 AM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

anjana-yes a lot has to do with the way we are brought up. Good to see the meaning of Namaste.



"gentle man grass is not green everywhere."

there may be one or two exception to what I wrote here and there in US. but in general US people give equal respect to all jobs.

if in some testing jobs one is treated as slave you can always complain. I can show you thousands of Indians working in testing job who are doing great and having no complaint. so just because of your case or your friends case is like that please dont generalise it.

then I have seen people working in testing have a hard time with the client. In most of that cases you get into the company showing fake experience. If you try to cheat in this system you wont be able to escape.

November 22, 2006 12:37 AM  
Anonymous Rathi said...

Really appreciable are your views and aspirations . But, you must always remember that the foundation of India is the age old caste system, Brahmins, Vyshyas , Kshatriyas and Shudras.Each caste has its own occupational facets and the respect or disrespect or dignity what ever you call is an outcome of the system.
At least let me try whether this will work in my small world.

November 27, 2006 6:05 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach said...

Brijesh, HI!

Before I share my thoughts- I think there are some spam comments that need to be deleted from this post. They are a bit distracting.

Ok.. there are sooooo many things I can say on the topic you bought out and the side-bar topics bought out.

Someone mentioned in the comments about a Friends episode and how the characters couldn't eat at the same table because they had different status. Then many people also suggested that people in 'lower jobs' aren't really proud of the jobs. Then the other side is to treat each other with respect, and the other person will 'accept that respect' (that's the undertone I hear).

Well... even in America... janitors aren't given respect. I was doing work at a college and daily this one janitor came to clean the bathroom. Lots of people were in there and fully ignoring her like she was in the way. Do they realize without her the bathroom would be a filthy mess. Then who's looking for the janitor? One such day I noticed that and decided to behave differently. I went up to that woman and talked to her. The first time I did, just asking "How are you?" and thanking her for the good job she does, she 'ignored' me because maybe she thought I was just being condescending, I don't know. But next few weeks, every day, I'd talk to her. She warmed up to me. She appreciated I took the time to talk to her. She said "I feel like a ghost over here. I do this work which I know is important, but people take me for granted. Thank you for talking to me."

Since that time whenever I go out if I see a janitor I talk to them. Actually, recently on a road trip from NY to Tennessee, I talked to the janitors in the bathrooms in rest areas along the way. I got to talk to some really interesting people. Southerners seem a lot more open to conversation than Northerners, I think!

Ok, regarding if us 'higher status' people show respect to 'lower status' they will 'accept it' because we are 'doing a good thing.' Well, actually, the first example is a good example of how that is untrue. I have an example from India.

Chennai 1999. I was staying with a family who owned a big bungalow on the outskirts of Chennai. They of course had maids. THe maid had her own 'quarters' at the back of the house, entering and leaving from the backdoor only making herself scarce unless she was called upon. Now I am sure such scenes are not uncommon in India, but me being a foreigner, this came as quite a shock. I asked my hosts about this. They said they have offered her to come in the front door, talking to her about why they want her to come through the front door (for equality and respect, among other reasons) and at one time they actually wouldn't allow her to enter the back door at all. No one even who lived in the house used the back door. But the maid took offense to this thinking she is not wanted anymore. She sat out on the back step until someone opened the backdoor to let her in. It was said that if her social circle saw her entering the front door it would not be a good situation for her. Others would basically think 'she's better than them' and she'd loose her respect among her peer group and maybe family. It's a question not only of behavior change but internal psychological, emotional and mental change. It takes courage to do this. One also has to see the value in it for themselves. What do they 'win' and at the cost of what? I am sure the maid desparately wanted to enter the front door and 'be respected but... because of the other pressures of society she could not find the fortitude to do that.

In Madras Christian College I did my master's thesis on street sweepers of Tambaram municipality. These stories came up again and again.

Jennifer Kumar

January 24, 2011 8:37 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach said...

Brijesh. I missed another thought!!

In US it is possible for a subordinate to make more than a manager.

In US, it is easier for someone to get a higher rank not based on age. (Younger ones can manage elder ones.)

Though US companies coming into India may slowly change these things it has it's merits and demerits to change them.

But these two points lead to the assumption that (not everyone I am sure feels this way, but...) as one ages, more respect is demanded rather than commanded.

Looking in from an outsider perspective (me)... to the stratified society ...
As one ages one demands rather than commands respect. One expects and feels entitled to raise up in the ranks and get paid more as they 'age' even if they don't really do more work to make that happen.

What do you think about that? Have you seen that in India?

If this mind set exists in India, how would this affect US based companies coming in- and with younger managers making more money than their older 'subordinates'. (I actually don't like the word subordinates, but don't know what else to use!)

Jennifer Kumar

January 24, 2011 8:47 PM  
Blogger Brijesh Nair said...

Jennifer – good thoughts…

I think it is true in IT companies in India…age has no relevance but the knowledge. But in the traditional jobs it is not true.. almost everywhere it goes by experience and don’t think it will go away soon :(

Situations like what you encountered in Chennai happens in India every day :(

January 25, 2011 12:01 PM  

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