Monday, 16 July 2012

Soft Words Break Bones

There is a fable told, by one of the patients in The Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, about a man who all his life could only walk in a straight line. Never turning left or right, he could only move purposefully ahead, never veering from his course.

One day he is taken, and made to go to prison, by King Solomon. Since he can only walk in a straight line the guards destroy everything in his path. In this fashion, he is walked throughout Jerusalem as it crumbles before him. Coming upon a shabby structure of a building an old woman pleads for the man to turn and save her home from being decimated. Weeping, she implores him gently, since this is all she has left. The man’s heart is touched by her appeal and slowly he begins the arduous task of turning his body. He shifts his body right, then left, then right, and just as he is about to turn and take his first step, his rib cracks, and breaks under the pressure. This is why they say “soft words can break bones”.

This phrase has been a lot on my mind recently. More than just speaking softly to keep out of trouble, I am astounded by the power it gives to those who amplify it. This trait is not usually found in extraverts or those who always get their way. Instead, I see it abundantly in those who have suffered a lot of hardship in life and rise to the challenge. These people do not use it in a manipulative form but sincerely and heartfelt. I’ve had the chance to meet many with this understated gift, and I see it the most in the Filipinos, Indonesian and Vietnamese people here.

They fly under the radar because they have the lowest jobs. The work they do is dirty, dangerous and demeaning, often called the “Three D” jobs. Many are factory workers, domestic workers and care-takers. They come here for economic freedom, and stay because of economic restraint. They borrow money for airfare and are then constrained to pay it back. One arriving there are many instances of duplicity. For caretakers they might be told they will be taking care of “Grandma” but then made to work in the family store. Or in other cases they are made to go over and beyond what they initially signed up for.The majority are woman, who have family back at home, so to refuse employment hurts more than just them. On top of this the hours the hours they work are unregulated and unprotected. To get one day off in a month is lucky, and they are constantly under their employers watch.

To me, the ordeal is painful to hear. I once had a job where I didn't get paid for over a month because of general disorder and mismanagement of the organization. Even though it wasn’t out of spite I felt picked on because I was young and inexperienced. Fortunately there were hiring laws I could rely on too back me up.  It worked for me, but I know there are many too nervous to speak out. Thank goodness there are a lot of caring people in Taiwan.

The Taiwanese are noticing the inequality and do what they can to make a difference. There have been rallies in the streets and opinions stated in the newspaper. The hope is that stronger government regulation will act as a deterrent on employers for mistreating their workers. There have been certain laws imposed but they don’t have a binding affect on the majority of migrant workers and there seems to be a lot left to do. 

What it comes down to, I believe, is the basic treatment of others like you would yourself. This is especially true when dealings with those who you are in a position of authority over. A person who acts kindly only when they have something to gain is being deceitful; they are hiding their real character under a charade. When we are kind to others it not only brightens their day but makes us a better person. We gain practice in everyday situations by watching what we say to servers at a restaurant, or the cashier at a grocery store. In this way, a bottom-up approach for migrant workers in Taiwan with the governments backing may have more bite.

 There are families who consider their workers as one of them. They show them special consideration and have mutual trust. Not only does this increase the standard of living for the worker but it profits the employer as well. Respect, and confidence in being treated fairly, will retain employees and the chances of them running away or faulting on a contract lessens. As well, days off will rejuvenate workers and increase the returns to labour. This is a fundamental principle of economics, and it even has its own fancy name, the law of diminishing returns. The law of diminishing returns is that for every additional unit of labour, the output of the labour becomes less than the previous one. In context of domestic-workers their reaches a limit for the amount of productive hours worked, and after that limit output becomes less and less. This can become a hazard since overtired workers make bigger mistakes and become slower.  If employers decrease existing hours they can in turn get better results.         

Finally it’s really the people we must take a look at. They have sacrificed so much to come here and earn more money. I think going a year without my family is hard, try five or twelve. There are cases of mother’s living here, and sending money to their children until they are all grown up. They don't get the chance to raise their kids, but have to make do by watching from a distance. Marriage is put off for the young and plans are sacrificed. Instead of having a job to live they are living for their jobs. Such complete dedication can be demoralizing. It isn’t enough to break bones, but definitely enough to break your heart.      

1 comment:

  1. Berekti, it is wonderful to see into your heart, and your sense of social justice this blog has revealed! There never was anything more powerful then kindness mixed with respect, no matter what you heritage or culture.
    Good for you to see this at your age, and to see you can act to make those around you lifted.

    Love you!! MOM