The Boilerplate and The Tears

Yesterday I mentioned a trip to a Renewers’ Conference and the ticket hi jinx that ensued thanks to the people who helped us without telling us. Today I thought I’d focus on people who told us but didn’t help us.

At least once a year JET Programme members assemble for various conferences where we were expected to suffer through, um, I mean experience and learn from various presentations. One of the regular occurrences was what I like to call the Robot Reads Boilerplate.

Basically, a spokesman for some part of the JET Programme would gather us all in one room and then answer our questions. The questions, of course, had to have been submitted in writing something like seven years in advance in order to be read. The problem with the answer guy we got was he wasn’t even trying to pretend that he cared about our questions or that he wasn’t giving us answers we already knew. He also told us he would not accept any follow up questions sooner than five years from now. (Something like that.)

For example, if a person submitted a question like “I live in Niigata City and it’s fairly expensive. Since the JET Programme considers cultural sensitivity to be vital to our jobs, why doesn’t the JET Programme pay for our Japanese lessons?” (Note: This used to be true; I don’t know if it is now.) The answer guy would read word for word, in an emotionless robotic monotone, a paragraph from the guidelines we already had: “JET Programme members are more than adequately compensated for their efforts and should have little difficulty affording a local tutor to help them improve their language abilities.” This is the bureaucratic way of saying “Paragraph 37, subsection 2, caveat 3, bitches. Read it. Know it. Live it.”.

It didn’t matter what the question was, there was always a boilerplate response. “My school principal splashes gasoline on me and tries to set me on fire by tossing lit matches at me. What can the JET Programme do to help me?” The emotionless robotic response was something like “Cultural sensitivity is a vital part of the ALT experience in JET and a part of the ALT’s job. ALT’s are encouraged to tolerate and be patient with different teaching techniques and different ways of interacting with colleagues.” (Translation: Shut up, slaves.)

This is how it went until one of my last conferences. At the final assembly, which is traditionally sparsely attended and/or full of hungover slobs, Robot answer guy criticized those of us were there because of the people who weren’t there. Robot answer guy followed that with his usual reading of the boilerplate and then read a series of announcements.

One of the announcements was about a JET Programme member who had recently died while rock climbing. Suddenly, the robot’s voice cracked and he cried and struggled to get through the announcement. Then, his voice full of tears, he asked for a minute of silence. He got it because most of us were stunned speechless, and more than a bit creeped out, by what we’d just witnessed. It’s sad but true that we gave more attention to that than to the death of one of our own.

Those of us who’d witnessed what happened then spent the rest of our time in JET trying to convince those who’d skipped out that it had actually happened.

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