Sometimes, your best is simply not good enough, no matter how hard you try. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of aid and development. Old chum Nate Rabe discovered that. Thankfully he seems to be doing fine in his post-Aid life. So let this be a warning, especially to those bright young people earnestly pursuing international development studies; with the wanderlust to travel overseas as a rite of passage; to discover themselves, and Yes, even to put the world to rights.
What kind of a person are you? Can you tell? And can you tell what kind of a person you see in others, particularly those of a different culture? You see not everyone tries their best.
To illustrate this and to set comparable benchmarks, may I refer to something more tangible? The biscuit or the cookie as our American friends like to call them. They are now ubiquitous around the world. You’ll find Oreos in the poorest most remote village.
The “I always try my best” benchmark goes deservedly to.....surprise, surprise my Northumbrian pride and joy cookie as pictured above. It’s got everything you want – it looks good, tastes good, has a splendid collection of choice ingredients, excellent texture, goes down with alacrity. Morish! No-one can eat just one. Why stop at two? I do acknowledge that there other brands around the world with similar credentials, so please savour your own instead for the purposes of this blog and read on.
If my Northumbrian confection is the gold standard - for rare high quality in biscuits and in workers - let’s examine in reverse order, who you will come across in the aid and development business, in fact in work anywhere. By the way, the biscuit test transcends all nationalities. In that sense we can attribute true equality.
At the bottom, you find the “does the bare minimum” work chum. We all know the sort. They often start with an initial flush of enthusiasm but quickly revert to their true form. They are the Cream Cracker – bland, tasteless, inedible without something to go with it. If you have one who got the job without that first flush of enthusiasm, he or she must be the dreaded Water Biscuit!
Not much higher, if at all, in the pecking order is the “does only as I am told” work chum. This is the typical workforce variety of public service in Cambodia, but they come from and get everywhere. We have his or her brother “Jobsworth” in the UK – “More than my job’s worth” to avoid any effort to oblige. They are the poor Marie type of biscuit. Small thin colourless. Not much flavour. It has a biscuit look. After you’ve eaten it, you ask “Was it worth it?” You can and should be able to manage without them.
At worst, they are “Jammy Dodgers”! (By name, not by attributes – the Jammy Dodger biscuit can be a treat as most children and a fair few adults will tell you.)
Next we come to the main variety of employee: “does enough to get by”. Steady, reliable, always unspectacular. No doubt which biscuit they are – the Rich Teas. Now I know that there are many Rich Tea advocates, due to its dunking qualities, and you can consume a lot because they are quite cheap, but they are what they are. They’re OK, they have some taste, they fill a gap, they're quite big and have low sin-food calorie-counts. In Aid & Development, they must be the “de rigueur” choice. They don’t look too decadent if the well-heeled expat in his or her air-conditioned office is munching one or two with the morning coffee or afternoon tea while checking out their personal Facebooks. Local employees aren’t impressed by Rich Teas. They won’t resent you not offering them one, not after their first.
Digression and warning: this advice does not apply to Northumbrian biscuits. Or Scottish Shortbread. They will make short shrift of those if you let them get their hands on them, as I have found to my cost! An entire supply to tide me over till my next trip to #Northumberland disappeared one Christmas....and it wasn’t Santa Claus that enjoyed them!
Finally I come to the worker above those doing enough. He or she “Does a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. There are never enough of these, the real thing. They should be a majority at work, more so in Aid & Development, but they're not. There are two types (or three): the Digestive and the Chocolate-coated Digestive. Either Milk or Plain chocolate is allowed. It is a fair biscuit, wholesome, quite tasty, in either form. The only thing is in this world of mass supermarket own-brands, none of them ever capture the true original McVities taste, do they? And we seldom get geniune McVities in developing countries, biscuits or workers.
So there you have my assortment in life. Yes, sometimes your best is not good enough. However I hope that there will always be folks who try their best despite knowing that truth.
That’s life, just “the way the Cookie crumbles!”
Aficionados of the Ginger Biscuit may be disappointed to see that it has not featured in this blog. Please don’t worry. This is because it has starred in another blog and on Twitter. Once again Northumberland is a world leader but this time with Ringtons!
Some handy Twitter Handles: