16 January 2007

A problem shared….

Government, employers, PRs…a devious lot, one and all.

There is much hand-wringing about the UK’s low recycling rate. Jolly serious politicians use the media to urge ‘householders’ to recycle their rubbish. If ‘we’ all use three different bins, the world will be a cleaner place. Or take last summer when there was a hosepipe ban, and ‘we’ were made to feel ashamed for putting a splash of water on our toothbrush before cleaning our teeth.

Whether it’s that ‘we’ drive our kids to school, fly more often or buy cheap food, ‘we’ – householders, consumers, average Joes – seem to be intent on ruining the world for everyone.

Except, of course, that the problems – and their solutions - don’t actually lie with ‘us’ at all. Poor recycling rates have more to do with government policy and businesses than inconsiderate consumers. And ‘we’ were short of water because it was deemed OK to build millions of houses in one corner of the country without updating the water supply infrastructure and, of course, to allow Thames Water to piss most of it away.

Yet the focus always comes back on how ‘we’ must change our ways. In many cases, of course, ‘we’ quite legitimately must play our part…although the burden of separating your rubbish into three different bins when you live in a small flat in London with no storage space - and the borough has just switched to only collecting rubbish every fortnight - is too much for most of us. Especially when you know that the contents of all three bins end up in the same hole anyway because the council hasn’t got the private sector firms in place to keep their side of the bargain.

The jolly serious politicians know this of course. They don’t actually think, or probably even care, what ‘we’ do. But by reminding us that ‘we’ could be doing more, they share – or at least shift - the problem. It’s harder to not vote for a government because it’s weak on the environment if it’s just pointed out that you’re a bit crap too.

Which is also a favourite tactic for employers, of course. The AD just buggered up the account? The AM wasn’t managing upwards effectively. Having to stay in work until 8pm every night to get through your excessive workload? Poor time management skills. Client doesn’t appreciate all your work? You’re not selling the results back to them well enough. A grain of truth in all of those, but the greater responsibility lies elsewhere. Yet shifting the issue quells the complaint.

When ‘my’ business is going down the toilet (because ‘I’m’ spending all the money on fast cars, a flash house, sharp suits, lap dancers and a coke habit), ‘we’ must all work harder.

Despicable PR tactic? Not me guv, it’s an industry issue…


Kasteera said...

Not just an industry issue, it is the social issue of our time. It is very rare that anyone will take responsibility for anything negative, you're overweight because nasty food manfacturers put too much crap in their food not because you eat too much and move too little. You spill hot coffee on yourself, don't worry you're not clumsy the vendor made the drink too hot.

In a world when it is necessary to state on a pack of peanuts that it may contain nuts just so that we don't sue, very few people will ever take responsibility for any pontential negative outcome from their own actions.

Rant over...:)

Anonymous said...

The coffee story is an urban myth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonald's_coffee_case

Kasteera said...

It's not an urban myth, though the most famous case was found in favour of the plantive so Maccy D's was at fault. Not sure about the other 700 and odd claims from 82 to 92. The point is still valid though, we are in a culture where it is considered perfectly normal to shrug responsbility for your own actions.


Jessica said...

Excuse me for being obtuse, but aren't these comments missing the point of the original post somewhat -- that 'We the People' can take as much or as little responsibility as we like, but our efforts are pretty meaningless without the people in charge (be they employers or politicians) shouldering their share? Just a thought.