In a minority situation, do you stand out or lie low?


  • Business
  • Monday, 18 Apr 2011

MY eldest son, currently pursuing his masters in London, finally got to watch Manchester United play.

Upton Park, home of West Ham, is just half an hour from his college, and because tickets for the away team are sold exclusively through the club of which one must be a member, he had to settle for a seat among the home fans.

I can imagine the dilemma he found himself in. I was watching the match on Astro, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the stands, wondering how he would handle the situation.

As it turned out, the match was a real thriller with the score at 4-2 in his team's favour. However, it was the Hammers who scored the first two goals.

Chatting with him later on the Net, he said he could feel the immense exuberance around him after the home team went ahead. But when the Red Devils scored the next four goals, the home fans really felt downcast.

He was obviously overjoyed his team won. As he was in ordinary clothes, his fan loyalty was not apparent. And of course, he had to keep his emotions in check in the interest of self-preservation!

I am sure many of us can relate similar situations in our working place, where we have stood alone on occasions. For instance, at meetings when we are called to give our opinions, do we go with the majority or are we prepared to give a contrarian viewpoint?

From my own experience, in the various places I have worked at, and even in different social settings like PTA and church meetings, different factors play a part.

Although we like to believe that every person's voice is equal, the reality is that a person with a higher position tends to command a bigger say.

Many people tend to defer to position rather than the validity of the argument and this often makes brainstorming sessions totally irrelevant. From experience, I note that participants tend to speak out more openly during coffee breaks than inside the room.

I remember a time when I asked someone whose side he was on, and he replied, without blinking an eye, “I am on the winning side.”

So it really does not surprise me when some politicians claim to be courted by parties of seemingly different ideologies because many people do bend with the wind.

Still, it is refreshing to hear minority voices although I am careful about those who seemingly want to be different for the sake of being different.

An honest opinion, delivered without fear or favour, is what makes for progress. But we need to be wise on when to speak and when to remain silent. Some battles should be left to be fought on another day.

History is full of examples about how individuals stood up to question the status quo. They are people who are not afraid to rock the boat.

This is true also in the history of sports. Do you know how the Fosbury Flop came about?

It was in the 1968 Summer Olympics that a young man named Dick Fosbury revolutionised high-jumping by going over the bar back-first instead of head-first. He didn't rely on the commonly used technique, as did all of his fellow competitors.

By challenging assumptions, he raised the performance bar for everyone. He won the gold medal, of course.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin recalls the time he took a family from England to a badminton match in KL and the two young Mat Sallehs fervently shouted “Go England!” when the whole stadium was screaming “Malaysia Boleh!”

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