Majority minority mentality, Minority majority mentality…

Last Friday I finished my summer internship at a frontline Architecture firm in London. It was a wonderful experience, Learning things about architecture was almost “not primary” (emphasise on almost). All that I observed and learnt were an amalgam of Architecture, people, stereotypes/or absence of it and about life itself.

I was guided at work right throughout by someone to whom I have utmost respect for and I am very thankful to him for his monotonously consistent guidance and advice in instilling in me (more so by triggering my thinking than by spoon feeding) valuable snippets of guidelines in terms life and how our life impacts that of others, and to be very conscious and vigilant of a very dangerous doctrine “actions begotten by assumptions”.

Most of my colleagues at work were British, the top most people were all British, but there were staff member s from other parts of Europe as well. I happened to be one of two south Asians (the only Asians) and the only Muslim, I say this only to make my post more related and less vague.

I had studied about the founder of this firm for Architectural history in university as a pioneer of post modernist architecture in Britain, and hence I took with me to work romantic notions of the firm and a little bit of pressure to perform and stay on par with the others. My pre conceived ideas are well justified at this point that I have left, I am certain there may be a certain bias in what I am saying, simple because I have not worked in any other architecture firm in the UK.

Many things at the workplace surprised me a lot, little things like person to person communication and love and respect for the other.  Every single week that I was there, someone always brought something for everyone to eat, and except for individual lunches every other food brought in was always shared by everyone else in the floor. A packet of biscuits that someone brings always goes around, one passing it to the other and when everyone have had more than their share it ends up on top of the table close to the entrance for anyone who wants another to take.

We don’t have a tea boy/girl, we have a kitchen with all things necessary for an office and whenever we want we used to go and prepare or take whatever we wanted, and no tabs or record were kept. When someone felt like it, he or she would suddenly stand up and go around the floor with a pen and a post it note asking what people wanted to drink and that person would prepare tea or coffee or whatever other thing asked for and bring it on a large tray. This happened every single day, and I too had the pleasure of doing this several times.

When someone went on a holiday, the return of that person is eagerly awaited, apart from it being nice to have the person back the “taken for granted” idea of that person always bringing sweets for everyone else is something much looked forward to. And I was quite fortunate that during my stint at work almost every week someone was returning from a short summer vacation, hence the abundant supply of sweets.

These may all sound very usual happenings; yes in Sri lanka these may not be unusual at all. But for me it was very unusual, at university here I have got used to very normal scenes of people just eating in front of the other and never offering to share what they eat, and people don’t even expect to be offered a share of what the other eats. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, in here its usual, and no one would bat an eyelid.

In uni I have begun to embrace the notion that it is too condescending for someone to be caught sharing another’s lunch, very contrasting indeed to the culture in boys schools back in Sri lanka where ten guys finish up one “bath packet” and run to the next person who shows any inclination of opening his lunch, the owner of the lunch normally aims to at least have a mouthful of rice and manage to take for himself the piece of meat, fish or egg which he would have had in his lunch, but his hunger is more than satisfied when he joins the band of hungry boys to devour another fellow classmates lunch.  Even if someone didn’t get enough for lunch his “fit eka” or camaraderie with the others more than compensates. I don’t know what form this takes in girl’s schools.

Sharing here from what I have seen at uni,used to take place when the thing being shared was booze or if the sharer was boozed up.

 

By these I don’t mean to say that everyone in university subscribes to this culture, surely not.. but these are just general observations.

So that’s how it was, but coming back to the very thought that instigated this post.

It is office tradition that when someone leaves, he/she is given a proper sending off and then everyone goes to the pub for a final round of drinks with the person who is leaving. When I was being officially thanked and wished by everyone..a few words which one of the partners told me stuck me quite well..to quote “I am sure everyone would love to go with you for a little celebration, but I understand that you can’t have anything for about one and a half hours” ( I don’t remember the exact words). What he meant was that since it was Ramadan and I was fasting I won’t be able to have anything to eat or drink. Eventually I didn’t go for drinks, thus slightly being a stepson to office tradition, but it was very well accepted and respected.

With this ongoing war on terror and other actions induced by media hype, people do have friction and difficulties in going on with life if you happen to be a minority, I will not debate that, but I am glad that I was respected for my identity and integrity and accommodated with no iota of stereotypical attitude or bias. Work colleagues knew that I will not come for lunches on Fridays because I go for Jummah prayers, and that too was well taken.

I mentioned someone at the beginning of this post, when I reminded him of what the partner told when I was going, he in return reminded me that people who are well educated and well read love to learn about other cultures and are accommodative of such colleagues who exercise their cultural necessities (obviously when it is within office principles and norms). Issues do take place, people are indeed held on account for things they did not do but then every dark cloud does have a silver lining. I for one have been very fortunate and I am thankful to god for the not so mere fact that right throughout my life I have been judged for the person I am and the way I deal with others and not on account for the ideology I subscribe to.

I would like to quote something from one of the many emails that have been exchanged between the two of us on a whole plethora of topics.

  • Can someone bully us, if we are not prepared to get bullied? I blame both the oppressor and the oppressed! What do you think?
  • BTW – I don’t like the word ‘Minority’, just as much as I dislike ‘Majority’.
  • ‘Minority Mentality’ – ‘Majority Mentality’ – ‘Majority Minority Mentality’ – Minority Majority Mentality’…?
  • Our grandfathers & fathers’ generations have done enough damage, now we (not you) are continuing with ‘destruction’, what will ‘Your’ generation do?
  • Are you going to STOP US?
  • Are you going to CHANGE US?

This post is dedicated with profound gratitude to this tutor, work colleague and friend of mine mentioned above, who has constantly reminded me and helped to shovel the snow off the pathway.

— Raashid Riza

Raashid is a Sri Lankan BB-ite and currently an undergraduate student of Architecture based in the UK. Sometimes he blogs at ‘Navigation on Balance’

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Posted on 09/22/2008, in Events-Activities-Announcements, Opinions, Youth-Culture-Society and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Nice post. Education is generally supposed to open minds so those who have truly learned something through a process of education are generally better at dealing with other cultures. Of course there are exceptions, but on the whole I think this is true.

  2. ya nice post, the office culture here in SL is also similar and I’m also in my first job and the only Muslim in my office.

  3. Great example of the the positive..we complain much too much and speak too little of the better things in our lives.

  4. Halik Azeez

    dude! you still remember those crazy interval lunches huh, Junda’s bath packet lol

  5. @halik:
    well if we were to apply it to our class it was more your bath packet than Jundas..Junda never brought a bath packet..except that he made everyone elses his own lol..

  6. Junda ? nice name..

  7. @deane: yes machang, you should see him first, and then you will realise how well it suits..

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