Friday, December 16, 2011

Can an organization such as the SMRT commit a Freudian slip? Of course...!

In psychology there is a term, parapraxis, that refers to the situation when you do something that was really not what was intended. In layman terms, this is often referred to as a 'slip of the tongue' when you say something unintended. We excuse ourselves through the maxim, 'a slip of the tongue is no fault of the mind'. This is of course quite untrue. Slips of the tongue often reflect a primary fault with the mind, and often betrays what the the speaker is covertly thinking, albeit subconsciously. At cocktail parties, we laugh at such Freudian slips when people chatter about meaningfully under the influence of alcohol. At other times, such Freudian slips occur when a persons guard is let down, or he/she is operating under duress.

So I was quite amused by the recent gaffe by SMRT when it sent out the message to taxi drivers during the breakdown of train services. "Income Opportunities" headed the message that the SMRT had trumpeted to taxi drivers. Quite insensitive and inappropriate. Of course the SMRT quickly came out and apologized for the message. It was a template message which had been wrongly used. Of course. In normal conversation, this is exactly what happens when someone says something unintended. He/she had used the wrong template message in his mind. It is nothing more than parapraxis. A slip of the tongue. A Freudian slip that revealed what the speaker had been thinking about.

So the SMRT really did have a Freudian slip. One could of course argue that an organization such as the SMRT, not being alive, does not really have a mind, and is incapable of committing a Freudian slip. But in reality it does have a corporate mind and a corporate consciousness. So the Freudian slip gave us a rare glimpse of the SMRT corporate mind. And the image is not at all attractive. "Income opportunities". Is that what it is all about? We know that SMRT has a duty to return shareholder value, but we should seriously question the SMRT about its raison d'etre.

At a broader level, we should be concerned that our society has become so preoccupied by "income opportunities". Sadly it seems like things are only worth doing if it has a clear potential for revenue generation. Tragically the practice of medicine seems to be rushing down that road too.

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