About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Monday, September 12, 2011

Waiting for a plane

I'm writing this while waiting for a plane bound for Tacloban. My younger brother is getting married and they (that is, he and his fiancee) will be having their wedding at the bride's hometown. We're having some bad weather here-- lots of rain, but no wind-- and they're also having a traffic jam in the air.

I'm a bit nervous about flying in this weather, given that I'm riding a plane whose crew has among the highest power-distance-indicators. Malcolm Gladwell talked about it in his book, Outliers. Among the things I learned was the likelihood of having a crash is higher when the crew has a high-power distance indicator.

Power-distance is tied to culture; a large power-distance indicator tells you that a given culture places great value on authorities. One sign of a large power-distance index is the use of honorifics and a well-developed notions of polite behaviour. For example, Filipinos use the words po and opo, kayo at ninyo to indicate respect. Po is almost meaningless; it's word added to a sentence just to signify that the person being spoken to has a higher rank in society. Kayo and ninyo are probably more like the word "thee".One uses the word kayo as a substitute for ikaw (you) to be polite.

One of the disadvantages of a high-power distance culture is the use of mitigation when a social inferior is talking to a social superior. Malcolm Gladwell takes the example of a pilot and a copilot. Pilots and coipilots take turns handling the plane, and one of the surprising statistics is the higher likelihood of a plane crash when the pilot is handling the plane, compared to when the copilot is steering.

If the copilot is seen to be doing something stupid, then the pilot can easily correct his copilot, without mitigation, because he's the boss. On the other hand, if the pilot is steering, and he's doing something stupid, the copilot will use the most mitigated statement-- he hints! Example: the pilot would say: "Turn this way!" while in the same situation, the copilot would say: "Uh, you might want to look at the weather radar."

A lot of plane crashes happened (according to Gladwell) with the plane being in good shape; the biggest factors were bad weather, and bad communication between pilot, copilot and ground control. Mitigation exacerbates miscommunication especially when the pilot is steering; the copilot can only hint-- because the copilot is talking to his boss.

And which countries have the highest power-distance indicators? The top five just happen to be: Malaysia, Guatemala, Panama, the Philippines,  and Mexico.

No wonder I'm worried.

1 comment:

Wartickler said...

The suspense is killing me! DID YOU MAKE IT?!