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[Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.]

‘I’m sorry, but we can’t accept that photocopy of your ID.’
‘Eh, why not? It’s legible, isn’t it?’
‘Oh, it is, it’s just it has to be enlarged to 150 per cent of its actual size.’
‘But why?’
‘Those are the rules, Sir. It’s just the way it is.’

The just-how-it-is society by Brendan Corrigan

‘Don’t ask questions, just follow the “rules”.’

Anyone who has ever had to do official business in Colombia over the years will relate to the above. There’s this fastidiousness, or at least there had been, about having photocopies of documents set to a specific size.

No doubt there was some valid reason for this when it was first introduced but few — if anybody — appear to know what that reason is now. Yet, I believe, it’s still a requirement in some places.

A price for pay
Such occurrences are far from unique to these parts. Across the world, there are procedures that “must be” followed yet when one asks why this or that is the case, hardly anyone knows the reason. Basically, they’ve become customary and nobody bothers to question them.

Government bodies tend to be the worst culprits (the following satirical video gives a good idea of this, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYcZc62Gf6w) but it happens elsewhere, too.

The one that always bemuses me is the need to supply paymasters with a certificate issued by my bank stating that the account exists and is genuine. Why on earth would I not give details of an active, “real” account when I want to receive money owed to me for services rendered?

I’ve heard it said that this is to prove that I am the account holder. OK, but what business is it of those paying me where the money goes, particularly when we’re talking about private individuals? Maybe, on the odd occasion, I’d like the money sent to one of my barrio buddies (at least that way there’d be a paper record of these frequent loans I give).

‘Whatever we’re doing or following may indeed be broken or causing harm and we don’t realise it.’

I’ve also been told that this payment protocol is done to cut out money laundering. I’m not sure how it manages to do that exactly.

Mentioning payments, there is a tendency in the largely toxic TV and film industry here to pay contractors a minimum of 90 days after work has been done. Again, when you ask why this is, you get the standard retort: ‘It’s just how it is.’

What would happen if I took the same line with paying my bills? Well, I’ve actually a very good idea of what the consequences are — see my previous post, Grupo Vanti’s vanity: ‘The customer is rarely right’, for more on that.

We are, though, creatures of habit and routine. And if everything seems to be just fine, we’ll stick to it: The if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach. The problem is, whatever we’re doing or following may indeed be broken or causing harm and we don’t realise it.

Fishy feeling
Take people’s approach to eating. We’ve been conditioned, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, into believing that we must eat at least three substantial meals in a 12-hour period or so. With the sedentary lifestyles many lead these days, they’d most likely get by on just one decent dish a day, if that’s even needed.

We do, of course, face many challenges in rethinking our consumption habits. There’s a whole industry with lots of money, power and influence that wants us to eat, drink and be merry all the time. Then there’s an associated industry ready to ease the pain on our overfed bodies with even more addictive goodies.

What all this should lead to is plenty of food for thought. Alas, when it comes to critically thinking about what we’re doing, what we’re being asked to do and why we’re doing it many, literally, don’t give these considerations a second’s thought.

I’m reminded of a story of a family who used to cut raw, whole fish in a very particular, time-consuming way before frying it in the pan. Eventually, somebody questioned the practice. It was found that it started simply because a great-grandmother only had one very small pan to cook with, so she had to cut the fish the way she did.

This made perfect sense at the time and in the circumstances — in fact, it was necessary — but the reason for its continuance had long since passed.

So it can often pay off to rediscover that unceasing child inquisitiveness, to regularly ask ‘Why?’. With that, we might find that there’s little substance or sense behind much of what we’re being asked to do.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.

Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan — The Blog & IQuiz “The Bogotá Pub Quiz”.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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