Saturday, December 11, 2021

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (MY Eng #34)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together' and 'separate the wheat from the chaff'.

It's not easy to run events during a pandemic. True, virtual calls come with many perks and conveniences. No need to book a venue. Less human resources to manage and coordinate. And above all, saves time and cost.

But simplicity is often achieved by shortcuts. When things are held online, there's a temptation to cut corners. The guestlist gets trimmed down to insiders, tech-savvy but inexperienced juniors, and people who responds to email invites quickest. People are less attentive and invested in an online setting. All in all, credibility and prestige gets watered down.

This is an increasingly dire concern in one of my major area of responsibility. It's something I've been harping on for the last few weeks (in equally cryptic coded language).

Why am I not being more direct? Why the secrecy? Why not go for the jugular and grab the bull by its horns (two idioms in one!)? Well, the answer is very simple. Simply put, complaining and whining about these fundamental flaws just changes absolutely nothing (and possibly makes things even worse)...

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Imagine walking down a familiar street in your neighbourhood. Wild stray dogs lurk around, barking and chasing down pedestrians. So when you see them just lying on the ground, oblivious to your presence, what do you do? Nothing, of course. Just walk silently and thank your lucky stars. The solution to many of our everyday grievance at work is just to let sleeping dogs lie.

Please don't mistake this for apathy. We do care deeply about our work with a burning passion. Our blood still boil when some stupid bug ruins our best laid plans. We feel like screaming at the hopelessly out-of-depth people screwing up badly.

Why not lodge a complaint? Send a stern note to the higher-ups? Don't mince words during feedback?

Well, it's been done in the past, and nothing ever happens. Worst still, complainants tend to get singled out for being trouble-makers instead. Yes, people don't take criticism lightly. People don't like facing the cold hard truth that they've made mistakes. People can be rather spiteful.

Sounds defeatist, but it is what it is. In life, there are some battles just not worth fighting for. Battles that can't be won. Battles that become even harder to fight in future if you don't accept losses gracefully even in the face of blatant injustice. Don't rock the boat, don't make a scene - that's the unspoken threat of people in power.
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So is there absolutely nothing we can do about problems overseen by people who are too blind and egoistic to see their own flaws? Is there no way to take on against corrupt institutions?

Of course, there are ways to fight back. But no need to rush headlong at the first sign of trouble. Patience is virtue. Don't go waking up monsters when you haven't quite figured out their weak spots and trained enough to take them down with a one-two knockout punch.

There's a time and place for everything. One day, we'll gather enough strength and courage to topple the high-and-mighty holier-than-thou too-cool-to-be-schooled overlords. But till that faithful day finally arrives, it's best to let sleeping dogs lie.

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