Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

An A for Effort but an F for Success Spells Failure

Written by johnleemk on 5:45:13 am Mar 9, 2007.

Today, I had the great misfortune to be involved in the elections of my college's Pre-University Student Council. The election was mainly for the post of President, with all the other losers being appointed to posts such as Treasurer in the order the votes were tallied.

The reason I call this a misfortune is that despite the best efforts of the lecturers to make the election and the Student Council meaningful, my experience with the Student Council and the conduct of its activities over the past year have made me very pessimistic about it.

But that's not a digression we need delve into. Let's just take it at face value that there are major, systemic problems with how the Student Council and its processes are run, and that because of malaise on someone's part (I honestly have no idea who), the posts are not particularly meaningful.

In the run-up to the election, one thing that annoyed me was the proliferation of posters for one particular candidate. Most other candidates confined themselves to campaign posters outside the venue of the balloting, but this one put up posters just about everywhere on campus, and distributed buttons and stickers. For what? An essentially useless post — the only meaningful activities I can think of that the Student Council organised in the past year were a sports carnival, and a dinner.

The thing that most irritated me was the lack of meaningful information about any of the candidates. Their posters were vague enough, but this could be excused on the grounds of brevity and propaganda.

When they were given the chance to give a speech prior to balloting, I was half-hoping for someone to actually prove themselves a decent candidate. I, of course, ended up quite disappointed.

Almost all of the candidates spoke in meaningless platitudes about "fun", "communication", "competence", etc. They seemed like the type who could easily spout whatever bullshit is scribbled in our Moral Education textbooks, without actually understanding it — and as it happens, I think the worst campaigner (with annoying posters everywhere) also turned out to be the worst offender when it came to meaningless platitudes.

Almost all of the candidates spoke along the lines of "Tell me what your problems are, and I'll solve them". Only one candidate seemed to have done any homework at all, by noting which campus societies were most active, and suggesting that our activities be modeled along their lines. The rest seemed to expect us to tell them what our problems are, rather than taking a proactive approach to discovering the problems and telling us how they would propose to solve them.

Being the jackass that I am, I posed a question-cum-statement to one of the candidates along the lines of: "I can't see any substantive differences between the candidates. Pardon my French, but what you've all been saying is just utter bullshit. You talk about your 'ideals', but these are the kinds of things any candidate who stood for election would say. You ask us to tell you our problems, but the onus is on you to find out what the problems are and to tell us how you plan to solve them. Only one candidate seems to have done any work at all on this."

At this point, the lecturer in charge of co-ordinating the balloting stepped in and told me that my criticisms were valid, but that we had to respect the candidates for being willing to stand up and make a statement to the couple of hundred Pre-U students. He then mouthed some statement about how the system would be changed to better accomodate all students, and then the campaigning went on.

In the end, I spoilt my ballot, and wrote a short note on it criticising all the candidates. A number of my friends did the same, although several others voted for the girl who had done some cursory research on organising campus activities. The eventual winner was a student from Botswana (though I expect that his main reason for victory was the huge base of Botswanan students, who apparently number about a hundred).

What really irked me and got under my skin about how this campaign went on was that so few people understood that in real life, getting an A for effort is nothing. Even the lecturers encouraged this fallacy by praising all the candidates for being willing to make statements.

The return on investment is rarely proportional to the amount of work or effort involved. I don't care how much work you put into plastering the campus walls with posters, or making campaign buttons — if all you can give me is bullshit, you will reap what you sow.

If anything, the victor's success confirmed this, since he doesn't seem to have put much effort into his campaign at all. He actually asked the lecturer if he could withdraw from the race since he didn't think he could win. He won basically by having the most entertaining stump speech, and of course by relying on the Botswanan vote.

I myself ended up on the Student Council committee, because my class elected me as their representative. I doubt we'll get much work done, since we have about twenty people on the committee, making it an impossible behemoth to handle.

In the end, however, I remain upset about how educational institutions encourage the fallacy that effort counts for something. In real life, effort counts for nothing. You either succeed or you fail, and working hard on something is merely a means to success — it is not a form of success in itself.

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