The mightiest minds and the weakest hearts

One of the corporate world’s biggest faults is its constant need for publicity, whether the right or wrong kind. To many corporations, any publicity is good publicity, even if it started out bad. When someone from the mass public writes to the editor of a newspaper to snipe about the abysmal treatment they received at the hands of, say, a bank, the story is immediately put on a merry-go-round so that when it finally gets published, people will read it and say how the bank had been wronged and accused of something that had been blown far out of proportion. That way, the bad publicity becomes good publicity, and corporations will go to any lengths to get that kind of publicity. At the same time, one must ask just how far will they are willing to go.

Two years ago, a local corporation teamed up with a local newspaper to come up with a competition for schoolchildren all over the country, which the former deemed a Corporate Social Responsibility effort, and the latter called a spin on its educational section. There were high hopes for this, because previous efforts involving children had been deemed successful, and nobody saw why this one should fail — until the very end of its inaugural season, amidst all the gloating about wanting to help children.

I suppose to some extent, there was some genuine and altruistic desire to do this for the greater good of the young generation. But just like how people can never really change, corporations can never resist that lean, however slight, towards what they see to be for their own greater good.

It didn’t help either that this is a country known for its plummeting standards of English, which are curiously — and sometimes wrongfully — attributed to the respective standards in each individual state. So when it came time to determine from the scores the five state teams who would advance to the final stage of this competition, and the realization dawned that the one state which has been stereotyped as the benchmark for the standard of English in this country would actually make it into the finals for one of the two competition categories, the organizers began to question whether or not the state should even be in the finals. Many arguments were put forth: if the team from the capital city did not make it into the finals, the volume of spectators and supporters — and consequently the publicity for both companies — would be greatly diminished, and if the guest of honor saw for himself during the presentation session of the finals just how far the standard of English had fallen in that particular state, it would make them look bad.

Nobody appeared to consider for a moment that these kids, who had already been given that unfortunate language stereotype, had come this far precisely because they had been able to overcome some, if not all, of the difficulties that the stereotype so cruelly stated: that they could not speak English. Nobody seemed to think about how these kids had worked and slogged so hard to be among the five states out of fourteen that qualified for the finals, only to be shunned in the end for the sake of a good audience turnout. And if anyone had even briefly considered these matters at all, it was the need for publicity and the sting of pride that in the end dictated their actions.

So the scores were adjusted. Altered. Fudged. The team from the underdog state was unceremoniously, if secretly, pushed down to sixth place, and the team from the capital city made it into fourth place. The biggest irony was that immediately after the scores were fudged, the capital city’s team in the other category legitimately made it into the finals. The capital city was now officially in the finals for both the competition’s categories. Everyone outside of the scorekeepers’ room was never the wiser, and the underdog state went back to being just that: the underdog.

To some degree it doesn’t matter which organizer initiated the act of deceit, because both parties were equally and heartily agreeable to it. It doesn’t even matter that both companies got exactly the kind of publicity and the support in numbers that they had always wanted. What matters, and matters greatly, is that in the end, nobody who deserved a chance to change the way some things have always been, ever got that chance, in spite of all the public promises and dreams that had been driven into the minds of these young and impressionable people.

It is a secret that is all at once deeply shocking and totally unsurprising. Yes, what the organizers did was horrible, many people say, but what the organizers did is what any other company in their position would have done too. Which is a very disturbing fact because not only does it virtually condone what these companies are clearly not above doing, it has taken away every last shred of meaning of the term Corporate Social Responsibility, which corporations take so much pride in because it shows the world that they are more than just glass doors and cash cows, and it shows that ultimately all they want is public recognition, even if it is for the wrong things.

This competition still goes on today, organized by the same corporation and newspaper, and is in its third season. That corporation no longer means anything to me, and up until this moment I have never written about the day I sat and watched them carefully changing the numbers on the score sheet — knowing that everything I tried to say to discourage them from this despicable act would fall on deaf ears. But the memory of that day will haunt me for a very long time, because it means that no matter how against it I was, I had a part to play, however indirectly, in depriving those kids who just wanted to show their country that they could be better than everyone thought them to be.

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