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Don’t kick the cat

Don’t kick the cat

By Dr John Steytler.

Namibia is in an unenviable position as a developing country, its economy is very fragile and it is trying to weather the pandemic. Any adverse impacts can and do have long-lasting effects. Where developed countries and economies can bounce back, the resilience and recovery of the Namibian economy is a more challenging prospect.

As an economist, I know that it will take more than a magic wand to kickstart the economy. It will require us working together, and as our President has said, ‘resilience’ from every Namibian. All of us pulling in the same directions towards a sustained and prolonged recovery. This means working together and realizing every company, every organization whether big or small needs to operate as a team.

The need to operate as a team made me think of something that I had recently seen on a comedy show called Blackadder, a very funny British sitcom. It sounds strange to bring up a comedy show in a serious article about the state of Namibia and its economy. However, it resonated with me. It came down to; ‘Sir Edmund Blackadder coming down to the servants quarters after having been thoroughly chastised by the Queen, and kicking the cat that lived in the servants’ kitchen. The cat in turn bit a mouse and the mouse bit the lowliest servant, or the dogsbody called Baldrick.

In life, there is a pecking order, and in the comedy Blackadder, we saw the pecking order in full effect. Everybody kicks downwards until there’s no one to ‘peck’ anymore. This is called the ‘Don’t kick the cat’ metaphor, used to describe how a relatively high-ranking person in an organization or family displaces their frustrations by abusing a lower-ranking person, who may, in turn, take it out on their own subordinate.

This describes what I have seen time and again in organizations, whether (non)-profit, SOE’s or governmental. It seems as if it almost expected and demanded to abuse lower-ranking employees or to take out frustrations on family members.

The last two years have been exceedingly harsh on everyone, no one has gotten away unscathed, and we are definitely not out of the woods yet. The economy is still taking a beating, despite measures that have been put in place to mitigate the position Namibia finds itself in.

The economic toll has had a major impact on our mental well-being, with people at all levels feeling powerless and frustrated. This is often when people lash out. Kick downwards if you will. Tempers are frayed, nerves are short, and people are barely holding it together. What could be better than taking out your frustrations on a junior staffer or on a family member…or the cat?

Well, to be frank almost anything is better than that. There is no excuse for abusing coworkers or subordinates as a mechanism to relieve stress. This behaviour can result in a chain reaction, where a higher-ranking member of the company or organisation abuses their subordinate, who takes it out on their own subordinate, and so on down the line.

This domino effect can also be seen in family dynamics, where the father yells at the mother who yells at the older child who yells at the younger child who yells at the pet. It creates an awful workplace setting or family home-life and is not easily rectified. It certainly does not create an environment that is conducive to getting the best out of employees or increasing productivity. This is what we need most if we look at the situation in which we find ourselves as a country.

Namibia is still a very hierarchical society, and we often take verbal abuse and physical abuse for granted. However, it is not normal and it is certainly not okay in this day and age. If we truly want to become a just, fair and equal society where we can flourish as an economy, but also as a people I urge you all to refrain from ‘kicking the cat,’ it will do wonders for Namibia as a nation and for our wellbeing.

* Steytler wrote this in his personal capacity.


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A Guest Contributor is any of a number of experts who contribute articles and columns under their own respective names. They are regarded as authorities in their disciplines, and their work is usually published with limited editing only. They may also contribute to other publications. - Ed.