Letters from Vietnam (8): Stay away from the elephants

Stay away from the elephants (if you are not stronger than they are)

Letters from Vietnam – Part 8

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Are you stronger than an elephant? Or stronger than a heavy truck? If not I suggest you follow the Vietnamese philosophy of easy traffic.

A common occurrence on an ordinary day

An old woman uses a crosswalk in order to get from one side of the road to the other. Before she has even set one foot on the zebra crossing a 30 ton heavy truck breaks and comes to halt in a safe distance. From the other direction a bus had approached and this bus comes to a standstill, too, so the old lady can now safely cross the road. The truck is laden with groceries that are urgently expected in a supermarket a few kilometres away. The bus is full with people who are on the way to their next appointments. Behind the truck as well as behind the bus all traffic comes to halt. Dozens of vehicles and people freeze in order to let one little lady cross a street. The vehicles and the cargo must be worth millions and the time is ticking away for all the busy people.

All for one little lady.

Have a guess in what country such scenarios usually happen. Here’s a hint: It is NOT Vietnam. This description sounds rather like what we experience in the Western world – in the so called civilised or developed countries. In my homeland, which is Germany, you can observe scenarios like that everyday and everywhere.

With which single word would you describe the above scenario? In Germany we call it “Rücksichtnahme” which in English (according to my favourite online dictionary dict.cc) translates to consideration, thoughtfulness, attention or considerateness.

I think all these translations don’t hit the bull’s eye and are somehow misleading. Keep on reading and I’ll tell you why.

To my opinion, what really happens here is that the drivers are taking care or looking after someone who is smaller or weaker than they are. That is a beautiful task to do. For the kids among you: In the hilarious movie Hook this thought has been augustly uttered by Peter Banning when he took out his sword and tried to figure out who would be the new Pan:

Now I want you to take care of everything that’s smaller than you.

To me, this is one of the noblest things one can do. In my list of values looking after the small has a high ranking in priority.

And now let us take a leap to Vietnam

Crossing a street in Vietnam is an adventure for the timid and a piece of cake for the brave. If you want to cross a street in Vietnam and keep standing at the sidewalk waiting for the traffic to come to halt you will die. Literally! I mean it. You will die. One day you will die of starvation. Because nobody will stop for you to cross the road except if you are willing to boldly take action. Not even traffic lights will guarantee that the traffic comes to halt for you.

And as every journey starts with the first step crossing a street in Vietnam is no difference. You start crossing a street by setting foot on the very same. Then slowly but continuously move forward – in short, be predictable. And as by a miracle the traffic will flow around you. Lots of honking still, but not the slightest physical encounter with the millions of motorbikes dashing along.

Does this mean that “Rücksichtnahme” is not a virtue in Vietnam? I wouldn’t say so. In fact, Vietnamese people are very considerate and caring, helpful and generous. But when it comes to traffic “Rücksichtnahme” simply doesn’t rank high in the commuters’ list of priorities.

And here is the difference between German and Vietnamese traffic philosophy.

In Germany we care for the weaker. In Vietnam they beware of the stronger.

Personally I would still rank the German way higher than the Vietnamese way – but that is just me. If I tell Vietnamese people about this thought – especially when it comes to traffic – they usually shake their head and reply that the German behaviour doesn’t make sense, it is inacceptable and causes too much of trouble. “Nobody would ever get to work on time!”

Staying away from the stronger is a good way to stay out of uncontrollable trouble. And interestingly you do this by applying consideration, thoughtfulness, attention and considerateness.

Does this ring a bell?

Truck on muddy Ho Chi Minh Trail

A safe distance from the bigger ones is a good idea to stay out of uncontrollable trouble when riding along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Lesson learnt

It doesn’t matter whether you are timid or brave. You need to pay attention and be considerate in both ways of life.

Here’s a tip for the timid: Get rid of your timidity without losing your softness. Timidity gets you nowhere. And for the brave: Always be considerate when you take these bold steps in your life. A bold elephant can easily crash a mouse, even if it didn’t mean to.

And just before I enter my flight from Da Nang to the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, let me give you the …

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

Firstly, understand the difference between controllable and uncontrollable trouble. I’ve written about the joy of finding controllable trouble in my last post. Uncontrollable trouble is something you want to avoid.

Secondly, make it a virtue for your business always to look after someone who is smaller than you. You can only win. At the same time stay away from the elephants (as beautiful as they are).

It is a wonderful thing when you look after someone weaker or smaller than you. But never blindly expect this behaviour from the people around you. Some are so obsessed with their way that they have only little understanding for the agenda of other people.

In short:

If you want to dance with an elephant, expect it to lead.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose


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