Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

87. Systemaniac


I enter into a Shopping Mall. While keeping my office bag at the reception counter, I pull out a cotton bag. The security person objects and informs me that I am not allowed to carry anything in the Mall. “I do not want plastic bag that your store gives, so I am using this cotton bag. You can check it. ” I explain as if I am guilty.

“No madam, you can’t take it inside.” He is adamant.
I speak about pollution, Municipal order against carry bags etc. but to no effect.
“I am sorry Madam, but rules are rules. We have strict orders.” The security man says.
Next moment I am out of the Mall.

The Mall it neither bothered about losing customers, nor about pollution; it is worried about its Rules.


I am staying alone in a Government guest house. I go to the Dining Hall for dinner. As I have late afternoon lunch, I just want a cup of milk. I know that they serve milk in a big glass. So, I specifically order for ‘cup of milk’ and add that I do not want ‘glass of milk’. The waiter comes back within a minute and informs me that menu card does not have ‘cup of milk’. I smile. I have traveled and talked a lot during the day, I am tired. I do not have energy to discuss the issue.

I tell him, “Ok, you charge for a glass of milk but give me only a cup of milk. I do not want to waste milk.” He nods.

He comes back and tells, “No madam, we cannot give you a cup of milk. You will have to take a glass of milk. ”

Why? Rules are Rules.


“I would really love to kick you out of here,” my reporting officer says coolly.
“Did I do anything objectionable?” I ask, feeling confused and of course insulted.
“You don’t follow the systems,” the reporting officer is happy to bring out the ultimate weapon.
“Can you give me some example?” I ask politely.

The reporting officer quotes one incidence, conveniently forgetting that I had taken written permission in advance; not from anyone else, but from the same reporting officer. I know how much of system people follow, I am not stupid. Only thing is they don’t say anything against it – they just break it. On the other hand, before I take any action, I communicate to the concerned. In a way I am an easy target.

“However, I cannot kick you out, because your work is indeed excellent” laments my reporting officer.
“ Ok, I will submit resignation.” I try to be helpful. What is the fun if the reporting officer does not want you and that too because you are excellent?
“But that won’t give me satisfaction of kicking you out,” reflects the reporting officer. I admire the honesty.

The conversation is only one way, linear, hierarchical. It can happen only in this way because that is the Rule. The System gives one way power to some and makes many others vulnerable. One’s insecurity is another’s power.



That is the buzz word. That is the most powerful word in the era where ‘Survival of the Fittest’ is the Mantra. Recently I read that Herbert Spencer who coined this term admitted later in his life that ‘fittest always may not be the best’. People can think about philosophy only when they stop participating in any kind of race. If one is competitive, one cannot really grow on the level of ideas – is my experience, I am sure that is yours too.

Most people love systems, either because it gives them a position of privilege or a comfort of stability. Some love systems just by habit and some others because they can’t think of any option. What is a system and what is a good system are subjective definitions. They keep on changing. Even a persons’ perception about the system changes as the person experiences it differently at different times.

I have nothing against systems. When many people are together, rules and regulations are necessary. A system is supposed to be a rational one, no space for emotions and personal favors. I generally follow systems if they work for the advantage of more.

But I am not ‘systmaniac’ like all the people I mentioned earlier. I am aware that certain aspects flower only outside the given framework. Having such moments and freedom in life, where one can cross such barriers is an ultimate luxury. Each one of us has the potential to blossom beyond the stereotypes we are taught to accept, live and expect. But these moments are rare; rest is to be brought into the fold of a working system.

If is only when the soul of the system is lost, when it starts destroying individuality beyond admissible limits, I rebel against the system. When people become maniac about the systems, someone has to demonstrate the futility of that system. Verbal rebellion is not much effective. One has to give up the benefits of the system to make a change. One has to take a stand – intellectual, moral, and social – whatever it is. It is not easy. One just wonders how all those ancient ones who brought changes in the systems had the courage to stand against the tide. One admires the people all around who are in the business of ‘making a change’ – at whatever level micro or macro!

Changing the systems to keep their relevance is not only an intelligent task; it is also creative and exploratory journey. The failures lead to new directions as one gains insights.

When one starts treating RULES as GOALS, that is a sure sign of a systemaniac.

There is very thin line between follower of a system and a systemaniac. We need to be aware and keep asking questions to ourselves – that strengthens immunity against systemania!


  1. Your post makes one think....On a very simplistic level, I often think of systems as entities which show us doors. Some people act as if these door only enclose us. And others treat these doors as something they can open, and look out of , and get more aware of what lies around you.

    Unfortunately, today , the former prevails.

  2. The rules and systems were evolved to bring in efficiency and effectiveness.

    But when, they substitute thinking and thought, thats when the process becomes the end and not the means.

    thats when teh downhill tread starts !

  3. Those who are swearing by the rules are right.They are the ones who dont make the rules and expected to only follow rules or their jobs are at stake.
    What needs to be done is to make rules and laws which are sensible and can be implemented.

  4. Makarand KarkareMay 29, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    This is very rational & eye opening! really one must be systematic-ready to explore more practical,beneficial & transparent system & not to be a blind follower- "systemaniac".
    This way of thinking gets immediate absorption in mind/ conscious.

  5. Those systems may not allow the 'security man' and the 'waiter' to decide using their discretion. All the systems we see are generally hierarchical. Can we distinguish between hierarchy and system. Actually systems should be for administrative convenience and should not be allowing power concentration. It may sound Utopian as human beings have instinct for power; authority assigned is seen as power and not as responsibility.

  6. Nice one !

    I think Systems are important and flexibility is needed.

    Rajyashree K

  7. Rules have become an end themselves, instead, they should serve as a better means for us.
    Rules are for our sake, we are not for the sake of rules...
    As you said, we need rational discretion while implementing rules.

    Regarding the survival of the fittest, there is nothing like 'best ' or worst, if we speak about evolution technically from Anthropological perspective.
    Best/worst come out of the parameters and criteria we set. But whats the criteria for creating criteria is the question of comprehensiveness and absoluteness

  8. Everyone faces the inhuman and inconsiderate side of systemaniacs around us. the rude, blunt and brainless behavior can set most patient minds on fire!
    recently i got a chance to interact with a number of system outcast people in various fields, architecture, organic farming, education, environmental science etc. And I realized the pressure of anger these systemaniacs have created among those who want to "think" and "work" without being told "how to do it as per our rule". It is important to once in a while extract ourselves out and analyze the system, make sure that it does not make us blunt. only then it is possible to survive and "make the change" as you mentioned....

  9. sad that means have become ends in themselves... nothing else matters

  10. Similar things happen to me all the time! It helps to focus on the system part and understand that the person in front is usually not the one we should direct our anger at. It helps to show the person you are talking to that you are not against him or her, but simply find the rules stupid. If you do it in a nice way, he or she will join you in your opinion. Today we have so many "standards" that are really bad for the planet. Hitting the system's rough edges can even serve as an indicator that you are doing something right in trying to be ecological!
    Oh, and as for the cotton bag, I just put it in my pocket and pull it out later when I need it. ;)


  11. Next time, if you happen to return to the mall (or even feel like it), ask for the officer and speak to him. I was stopped once for carrying a bottle of water inside a movie hall in Mulund, Mumbai. The explanation was 'We have bottled water on sale inside, so you need not carry your own'
    And since the movie tickets were already booked (which meant we had spent money) I was not ready to walk out either.
    Not only did I win the argument but also got an apology from the white collared super head of the mall, who ever he is!

  12. Ugich Konitari, yes, systems are good until they help people and unfortunately that happens very rarely.

    Kavi, when downhill starts we need to change. That is where the leadership matters.

    BKChowlajee, very true!

    Makarand, you are right!

    pk, I do agree that some people are not in a position to change the system, but what about those who are?

    Thanks Rajyashree.

    Mahesh, thanks for pointing out that the term 'best' is as power oriented as 'fittest'. I will always remember this.

    Anunja, most patient minds are set on fire initially.. slowly they get used to it.. and the 'cool' attitude is developed.

    Thanks magiceye.

    Kjell, yes, I agree that we need to disapprove the system and not the person... even those persons who carry on the torch of the system are victims of it sometimes!

    G, thanks, next time I will try it ..:-)


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