To humanize human (a.k.a “nge-wong-ke”)

“So what do you do?” — my usual ice-breaker to a conversation with someone new. Apparently this time the guy happened to work for labour issues. We got into this interesting conversation about labour issues and in particular outsourcing.

Outsourcing has become more popular these days. Many companies have switched to this option for their human resource solution. Along with the use, unfortunately comes the abuse.

My conversation partner explained in quite a great length about the outsourcing and its issues. It’s fine as a principle, if your company works in, say, communications counsel, then you don’t have to be experts, nor do you want to be boggled down with security or cleaning services. Hence, you can outsource this, he said.

The problem arose, he continued, when we started to use this option to hire people to do our core functions in the company as a way not to dodge our obligations to employees, or when we use unqualified outsourcing companies, or when we mistreat the outsourced staff.

The more I listened to him, the more I was hearing something else, the underlying, more fundamental issue. I found it interesting that this thought came up. What I was hearing in my simple mind was the lack of respect to other humans. Compassion.

Yeah, but this is business. You’ve got to think of how to sustain the business and this sometimes mean you have to take tough measures. Of course, business sustainability is key. But that does not mean we can lose our compassion altogether. There’s got to be a better solution. The one that is more compassionate, just, and respectful.

I have seen this works. A company with a heart–I have been fortunate enough to be involved in such companies or organizations. They thrive just the same.

At one instance, even as they had no choice but to lay off some or even most of their employees, they did it with their employees’ best interest in mind. They sat together for months to think of ways to support the employees. They conversed with the employees. They provided golden hand-shake severance pay. They conducted career counseling sessions and job fairs for the employees. They didn’t have to, but they did it anyhow.

To take it to a more basic level, at the heart of it all, is how we (and I most definitely include myself here) treat others. The Javanese has this wonderful, simple saying of “nge-wong-ke” or “di-wong-ke”, to humanise human, to treat and pay due respect to human as human–and beings as beings.

We only need to look as far as our immediate surroundings to gauge how we are doing. How do we treat our family members? The household staff (drivers, maids, etc)? The street vendors that pass by our houses)? The cleaning service or food sellers at our kids’ schools? Our team members, the office boys and security guards at the office?

Even closer — how do we treat ourselves? As human beings, as well as we treat other people, or …?

I like to use this as a retrospective exercise to see how I am at any given moment. The moment I forget about this principle of “nge-wong-ke” other people or myself, is the moment I need to step back and stop, and start again, hopefully, better.

To treat one another, and ourselves, with due respect. More and more, this needs to be our only option. Initially, at a personal level, then, and only then, at a wider level, be it society, business, or even national or international level.

For the sake of sustainability. For the sake of humanity. For our own sake.

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