Last week, we talked a bit about the sense of “duty” that Japanese people tend to have. This is one thing I really admire about Japan. A few months ago, a group of bus drivers in my country won a huge amount of money on the national lottery. They had formed a syndicate at work, so they all shared the winnings. I think there were about six of them. Anyway, when they found out they had won, they just didn’t turn up for work the next day. They didn’t care about inconveniencing the company or the customers – they basically didn’t care about anything now that they were rich. The strangest thing about this was that almost everyone in Britain laughed when they heard this news and said that they would have done the same. Maybe it’s because I have been in Japan for a long time, but I thought it was disgraceful behaviour.
Having said that, there are times when the Japanese sense of duty can be abused by those in authority in order to just push people around and make them do things they don’t want to do. In Japan, people are taught from a very young age that “gaman” is a sign of strength, but in the West, this would often be seen as a sign of weakness because you are letting yourself be bullied. For that reason, Western people love to hear stories about people standing up for themselves, especially when they are fighting against a big organisation like a famous company or the government. Last week, one of my best friends, who lives in Canada, sent me a story that has been on the news over there. Here is what happened…
A musician named Dave Carroll from Halifax Nova Scotia had difficulty with United Airlines. He spent over 9 months trying to get United to pay for damages caused by baggage handlers to his custom Taylor Guitar. During his final exchange with the United Customer Relations Manager, he stated that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video for YouTube exposing their lack of cooperation. The Manager responded: “Good luck with that one, pal.” Of course, this was a sarcastic comment that meant, “We are not scared of you – you have no power to threaten us.” Anyway, Dave wrote his song and posted his video on YouTube. If you listen to the lyrics, you will be able to hear the story.
The video has since received over 11 million hits, and Dave has now written several follow-up songs and even a book! United Airlines has subsequently contacted the musician and offered to pay him to take down the video. Naturally his response was: “Good luck with that one, pal.” Taylor Guitars sent the musician two new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has led to a sharp increase in orders.
People love this story because this guy was not prepared to do “gaman.” He was not afraid to take on this huge company, and he succeeded in making himself famous, and in making them look like fools.
This week, I would like to hear any tales you have about either you or someone you know refusing to do “gaman” and standing up for yourself. If you don’t have any stories, please feel free to just write your reaction to this story, or any other thoughts you might have on the topic.