November 5, 2007

The "recommended"

Everyone complains about the TV, but there are a few noteworthy programs. One of them is BallarĂ² in which Giovanni Floris gathers politicians, experts, journalists, professors and such and tries to get them to stay on subject and say things of interest to the public for a few hours without scratching each others' eyes out. He has such an engaging smile and polite ways, that the guests generally behave and do as they are told. Amazing man.

He also keeps an "opinion" column in the Saturday magazine that comes with La Repubblica newspaper and this week he talked about "Raccomandazioni". He says that the system works because the country loves to make it work and then proceeds to give a few stats from various pieces of recent research.

* One out of every two Italians declares that he or she found their current job thanks to friends.
* Seven out of 10 young people think that "a little help" is necessary in order to get a university degree within a reasonable time frame.
* "Recognizing merit" is considered to be "very important for the functioning of society" for just under half of Italian citizens.
* A surprising 44 percent of young people (interviewed) declared that "working better than the others" does not justify an increase in salary -- a company should give an equal raise to all workers, not just to a few on merit.

It is easy to brush off the above, "oh, those Italians", but as Giovanni goes on to say, it is not as superficial and simple as it may seem.

The one who is "recommended" may be incompetent (as we would tend to assume), but he or she may actually be very competent but feel unsure, inadequate, or afraid of the unequal playing field. He or she may not feel confident about the integrity of the people on the other side that will decide his or her future, and assume that someone illegitimate will get his or her position if they do not take pre-emptive action -- "recommendation as legitimate defense" that guarantees equal footing with the other "recommended" candidates. In the end, "if you want to play, you have to accept the rules". As one candidate for a university post-doctoral research position put it, "What person in their right mind would participate in a university "concorso" without a patron?"

What makes me sad is that chasing down recommendations takes up so much energy that young people could put to better use -- in risk-taking, new ideas, innovation. Instead their talents and youthful exuberance get wasted in trying to work the system.

Che peccato.

a domani,


Anonymous said...

Dear Larc,

Strangely, I feel no cross-cultural twitching when reading about the Italians and their system of recommendations, while as soon as I hear the word "merit", those symptoms you mention as indicating a cross-cultural moment immediately come on. I was raised with a strong emphasis placed on the collective, so perhaps for this reason I feel more kinship with certain practices you have mentioned, though I am keenly aware of their demerits.

One can feel strong cross-sultural discomfort even within one's own given cultural context. What do you think? I love hearing your thoughts.


Jadie said...

Perhaps the difference has to do with how much choice people have? Here in CA, it's certainly true that having "connections" can help get that first job...but instead, one can choose to "cold call" and also have a chance. My older son got his law firm offers based on the quality of his law school, and on his own performance during the summer appointment. He also had a chance to interview at a particular firm based on our friendship with one of the managing partners...but he didn't want that position! Our younger boy literally cold-called for advertising...we didn't know a soul in that business. He, too, got interviews, and has a good first level position. One of the advantages of the U.S. is that there are many different ways to succeed?

Elizabeth Abbot said...

Jadie, the whole thing is complex isn't it? I think you can say thought that there are more direct ways to succeed in the US. There are more intricate mechanisms that need to be circumvented here.