Red herring: Why fools perish together

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

IT’S difficult to understand people and their motives. We don’t know their agenda until you test and validate them objectively. The agenda may be obviously wrong, patently illegal, and pathetically immoral, and yet you give people the benefit of the doubt. In so many diplomatic words, you persevere in telling them what’s wrong with their proposal or action.

Without you verbalizing it, it’s like reminding people that they have a conscience that should keep them from doing wrong. If not, prevent them from enjoying the fruits of their action.

But what they do not have a conscience? You know what I mean. We can see it everywhere, here and abroad. One example is how extremist groups decapitate people and mutilate the dead. One latest barbaric action was the reported defilement of the dead Special Action Forces by a faction of the Moro Islamic Federation Front and the live burning of a captured Jordanian pilot by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Brutal killings are not limited to the extremists. Even the United States and its allies have its own share of barbaric actions against its perceived enemies. A world without violence is unthinkable. And it’s not limited to physical things. It can also happen in the workplace where workers are reduced to mere cogs and paid the lowest wage possible to work in sub-standard conditions, and yet verbally abused to the core.

In other words, violence is everywhere, every day, and happens to everyone. Many of us are confused as where to go. We are still left, however, with questions on why this is happening in our midst. I’d like to offer one probable answer—the red herring.

In “The Art of War,” Chinese military Sun Tzu said: “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy.” As you can imagine, the “enemy” here is not limited to an army of a hostile foreign country, a lone rival to the heart of a beautiful lady, or a fierce business competitor, in today’s fast-paced global economy.

If you’re in management, confusing the enemy may include giving in to an unreasonable economic demand of a trade union in exchange for signing a collective bargaining agreement, because you can see the high profits that may as yet not appreciated by ordinary mortals.

In other words, the red herring is a diversionary tactic, wittingly or unwittingly designed by person so that his target may agree to something, if not look and think of something else. In writing suspense, fiction novels (or movies), the author (or screen writer) creates a situation or a “false clue” that leads readers or viewers, even the characters of a story to reach a false conclusion.

On the other hand, an unwitting red herring is created in a situation when a government official blindly follows an unreasonable policy. Recently, I was told of a story of a brilliant 6-year old boy who was trying to enter Grade One in a local government primary school. I’m saying “brilliant” because the boy even if he comes from a distressed locality with jobless parents can read, write, and do simple math.

I was told by my wife that the boy can beat any Grade Three pupils.

This boy was a student of my wife who is doing volunteer day care teaching job in our barangay. The parents of the boy came to my wife to plead for help. The boy was rejected as a Grade One registrant in another public school, simply because he didn’t attend kindergarten in that particular school.

My wife came in to the rescue by requesting school officials to give the boy the entrance test to prove their case that he’s very well qualified to enter Grade One. Just the same, it was rejected. An admission rule is a rule, even if it is the most unreasonable policy in this planet. Unless that rule is abrogated, it must stand regardless of how foolish it may appear to be.

I can almost read the balloon on top of their heads of these nincompoops: “It is a strict academic requirement. Please understand it as we don’t want our credibility to be adversely affected.” Now, you may be asking: “Is that relevant to the issue?”

The red herring, if done intentionally is a strategic, key move, but not if it’s done unwittingly by government school officials who don’t know how to spell the word—“reason.”

Rey Elbo is a consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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