In our job we regularly exchange documents with our counterparts' offices located along Jakarta's Sudirman street. Joni, one of our office assistants, is the person in charge of delivering these documents. (at other places Joni will be called an 'office boy'. We prefer the term 'office assistants' because their duty mainly is to assist us in doing something that we are too stupid to do, such as fixing paper jam in photocopy machines or sending a fax without mistakenly sending it to Timbuktu. Don't laugh. It actually happened! ). Upon request, Joni will take the office motorcycle and deliver the documents quickly and reliably.
We noticed however, that when we asked him to deliver documents to one particular office building in Sudirman street, he showed some reluctance. He would still do it, but you could see on his face that he did not like it. One of us decided to find out why.
He took Joni to lunch and then after a pleasant talk of other topics, asked Joni to tell him what is wrong. Apparently Joni hates the security guards of that building. He said security guards in all office buildings are mean to him in general, "but that is fine. I know I am not 'somebody', I am just a messenger, and I accept it"
, Joni said. "But some guards are just plain mean. Even if I do not do anything wrong, even after I parked my motorcycle properly, and left my ID at the desk, they still asked me questions and gave me a suspecting look."
His last straw was when a group of security guards dragged him to an office at the basement and strip-searched him, suspecting him of concealing a weapon. They found nothing of course, but since that moment, Joni hated them. Hated the building.
We found this hard to believe. We go in and out that building so many times, and no security guard has ever come to us. We are never asked to leave any ID (although it is written specifically at the lobby desk, that all guests must leave an ID), we are never asked about what we brought in our bags, we are never asked where we want to go in the building. Never.
So we assumed Joni was being discriminated against. He received such treatment because he is a messenger. And being a messenger does not gain him respect.
So what do we do? Be a vigilante and storm the building, demanding justice for Joni? Well, of course not. We thought we should be sure about this.
We will do an experiment. Here is how it will be done:
We will ask a male volunteer, (can't ask Joni, his face will be too familiar), to go in and out some office buildings in Sudirman, and we will observe what happen. We will do the experiment twice. First the volunteer will enter the building wearing a simple outfit (T Shirt, jeans and sport shoes), and the second time, he will appear in a nice suit and a Nokia communicator in his hand. We want to proof to ourselves, that the same person will be treated differently just because he wears different outfit.
We will pick 10 different office buildings along Sudirman area, so we won't be biased towards certain building.
To make it more exciting, we will do the experiment on Saturday, when things are quiet. Yes. We want the security guards to notice when our volunteer enters the lobby.
We thought the experiment will be useless if our volunteer can walk in unnoticed. We want the guards to have a good look at him and then decide whether to approach him or to leave him alone.
One of our colleagues found a volunteer. It was her driver. His name is Didik. Didik is tall and well-built, so he will look good in both outfits. Perfect. Didik is excited too when we explained about the experiment. Especially the part where he will get to wear a suit and carry a Nokia communicator. He almost jumped for joy when we told him he gets to keep it after the experiment is finished (the suit, not the Nokia communicator. That one is borrowed from our friend who owns a cellphone shop, because none of us uses a phone the size of a brick).
We had the plan, we had the volunteer, we bought the suit. We were ready. We were so excited we could hardly wait until Saturday.
Are you curious about the result? Well, we were. So here we go. As the first part of the experiment, Didik went in and out the office buildings in his T Shirt and jeans. He carried nothing in his hand. We asked him to enter from the front lobby, go straight to the elevator, and go up to wherever. After a few minutes he should go down and leave the building. That was it. As a precaution, we asked him to memorize an office name located in the building. Just in case somebody ask where he was going, he would have the answer handy. We gave him office names and contact person names, just in case.
So how did Didik do? How many times do you think he got stopped by the security guards? Well, here it is:
Out of 10 visits to 10 different office buildings, Didik was:
- Ignored, no response from security guards : 1 time.
- Stopped and asked where he was going, but let go without having to leave an ID : 3 times.
- Stopped and asked where he was going, and asked to leave an ID before let go : 4 times.
- Stopped and told to leave the building : 2 times.
Yes. He got kicked out twice! Even after Didik offered to leave his ID, told them the specific office he was going to, and that he already had an appointment with so and so (he named our contact person). They still told him to get out. One of them said: "That office is closed. Shut up and get out!"
After the first stage, we thought it would be stupid to dress Didik up in a suit and send him there again. Some of the guards might remember his face. So we decided to wait until the next Saturday to launch the second stage of the experiment.
The following Saturday, Didik was dressed up ready to go. He looked really convincing. With Nokia communicator that he pretended to use from time to time, he looked just like any Jakarta's young professional.
So how did it go?
Out of 10 visits to 10 different office buildings wearing a nice suit, Didik was:
- Ignored, no response from security guards : 9 times.
- Stopped and asked where he was going, but let go without having to leave an ID : 1 time.
- Stopped and asked where he was going, and asked to leave an ID before let go : 0 time.
- Stopped and told to leave the building : 0 time.
Yes, he was stopped once, but even that, the security guard asked him where he was going only to press the elevator button for him. The guard even held the door until he was in!
So there you go. The result of our simple experiment. Suprising? Hardly. Such phenomenon is known for years as the Warren Harding error . Named after Warren Harding, who in 1920 ran for US presidency. He was elected despite being vague and ambivalent about policy, just because he had the good look. (He was tall, handsome and looked 'presidential'). Since then, researchers call a quick cognition based on appearance as Warren Harding error. Such cognition is said to be the root of prejudice and discrimination.
But still, it is sad, isn't it? It really made us think.
Is that what it takes to gain respect these days? Dress up in a suit and carry an expensive phone? Is that why we work so hard? Is that why we chase higher and higher salary? So that we can afford to wear expensive things and hence gain respect from people? is that why we choose certain model of a car? Is that why we choose certain neighborhood when we buy a house? So that we can portray a certain image, and that image will gain us respect?
Is respect so cheap it can be bought at a price of a nice suit? (Didik's suit was Rp.1.780.000, less than 180 US dollars).
No wonder we cannot prosecute the country's corrupt people . Those people wear suits.
 Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
- Malcom Gladwell, ISBN 0-316-17232-4
 Yosef Ardi - Blind eyes on Big-Fish Corruptors
---PS: In case you are concerned about Joni, he no longer delivers documents. We decided to hire a startup delivery service company to do this. Joni is now responsible for our mail room (he sorts & distributes incoming mail, handles incoming & outgoing faxes, etc. He will only need to step out the office if he has to go to the post office to mail our letters.)
Didik, on the other hand, no longer works for us. A few weeks after our experiment, his father passed away, left his mother and him a small restaurant to run in Surabaya. Being the only son, he decided to help his mother run the business. The restaurant is now a must-visit whenever we are in Surabaya.Feedback: indonesia.anonymus at gmail dot com