Monday, February 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Rats

     Once upon a time (the obligatory fairy tale opening line) there lived two white rats dwelling cozily together when fate took them apart.

     But halt  – this is not a fairy tale. This, is office dynamics!

     Returning to the story, our two protagonists were separated by none other than ... ... diabolical villains donning white  – scientists. These scientists kept them apart, with their sole connection being electrical wires tied to their tails, then proceeding to introduce a current in the wires. Ouch! (Just the kind of stuff lab rats delight in doing to real rats.)

     One of the more fortunate rats was named 'Boss' (told ya this is an office tale) and had a switch placed within reach of it. One click on the switch by its front paw when it felt a pain sensation and the electrical current would be cut off. The other rat, a miserable fellow named none other than 'Subordinate', had no means of cutting off the current and thus could only wait frantically for Boss to cut off the current.

     The two rats met in a most tragic fate in the end, which details we shall not go into elaboration here (suffice to say that lab rats are the eternal nemeses of real rats). Upon examination of their stomachs for the impact inflicted by the stressor (the electric shock), it was found that the blessed Boss had developed a smaller ulcer than poor Subordinate.

     As with many stories though, this is a tale with a twist. What we may not have paid attention to at this point is that being tied to the same electrical connection, the two rats had been receiving an identical quantity of electric shock all the while. We thought of Subordinate as the long-suffering protagonist, even though the fact that it suffered merely as much as Boss had always been right in front of our eyes. Yet, Subordinate still ended up with a larger ulcer than Boss nevertheless.

     Like our furry cousins, we rats of the breed scurrying around in the oft-termed 'rat race', experienced greater trauma when we perceive that we are not in control of our fates, even though the stress load might have been all the same had the reality been otherwise. Thankfully though, unlike real rats, we do not have to be subjected to the sadistic whims of mad antagonists in white. Far from that, we are able-bodied individuals capable of realizing our own volition. In fact, in this modern age, we are more often than not free to shape our own destinies in life, be it picking a life partner we are truly in love with, building an academic career around our interests and passions or choosing a career track that matches our aspirations. The lamentable thing though, is that some of us tend to lose of that when the going gets tough. Hence the onus is on us to remind ourselves in such times that we are still living our dreams, a bed of roses they may not be. Unhappy with your boyfriend's tardiness? Well, no one's perfect, and at least he's the dream guy you managed to snag among a crowd of hopefuls. Have to wake up at 8 a.m. for the morning lecture? Deadlines for a series of term papers coming up? Pulling an all-nighter for an exam? In some other corner of the world, lots of kids would die just for the privilege of attending school! Stuck in your office cubicle for 80 hours a week? Wait, don't forget that you are doing something you adore a million times over being stuck in a hot sweaty assembly line, along with its complementary dust, glass shards and cranking machinery noise, 80 hours a week.

     Happily ever after or not, WE are our own Boss. Let us not hurt ourselves more by thinking otherwise.

Reference: Aikawa Atsushi. (2001). Counter-intuitive Interpersonal Psychology. Japan: NHK.

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