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Incompetence cannot be sugar-coated to make it sound like an honest attempt that failed, writes Shalini Rawla

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 - 3:39pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Politics in India was agog with the impending elections in three important states. Several scams had incensed the hitherto apathetic aam aadmi. There was disdain for the perpetrators and hope from those who promised to set the system right.

'I must make use of my vote this time' was the refrain I chanted to extract myself from the humdrum of daily working life and go to the nearest voter registration centre to get my name enrolled in the voter list. While India sat on the threshold of major political change, I wanted to be on the other side to witness and embrace the change.

And last week a knock on my door changed everything. My voter identification card was hand delivered! I could see positive signs already. But when I examined the card closely, my new-found enthusiasm was punctured in an instant and apathy and cynicism threatened to rear their ugly heads.

My surname was spelt wrong. My husband's name was wrong. So was my birth date! And even the address. It was a miracle that the card was delivered at my doorstep. I looked at the faded, compressed black and white picture that vaguely looked like me, confirming that I was indeed the unfortunate recipient of the ID card.

The next day, I was at the registration centre and pointed out the errors to an official. I was asked to take it easy, fill up another form describing the mistakes, and wait till after the elections. "At least, they got your gender right, madam. And you can still cast your vote," said the official with calm reassurance, while I seethed inside.

What's with this 'at least' attitude? Are we as a society expected to be forgiving of laziness and incompetence? I see this 'at least' attitude everywhere – in how we react to different situations and with regard to the behavior of public figures.

Some time back there was this appalling justification – Rahul Gandhi really made a hash of his interview with Arnab Goswami, but 'at least' he had the gumption to face him and millions of TV viewers. Those supporting Arvind Kejriwal have a similar attitude – he may be breaking the law in doing things differently, but 'at least' he is trying to introduce something new.

Bank relationship managers routinely forget to do the job requested by their customers and when they call after a hiatus of ten days, some of them end up defending themselves by saying that they indeed have the customer's interest in mind since they 'at least' called back.

There are some employees who feel they will not be a slave of any company but are willing to do only the bare minimum that it takes to get a paycheck every month. 'At least' they come to office on time everyday.

Have we become habituated to mediocrity? Are we setting the bar at a new low with every passing generation?

Laziness is not failure. It is pure lazy. Incompetence cannot be sugar-coated to make it sound like an honest attempt that failed. When Thomas Edison was asked about his 1,000 attempts to invent a light bulb, he said, "I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb."

For speakers at inspiring industry events it is more about sharing how they failed, so people feel good about themselves. Have we normalised failure so much that we expect the fall not to hurt us too much?

It is not okay to fail if you give up after the very first attempt. It is okay to fail only if you try again and not lose sight of your goal. Replacing 'at least' with 'at the most' in our everyday speech will make us more positive, ready to take action and be more proactive. Let us 'at least' understand this.


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