For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
While the Chinese government blocks many U.S.-based video sites, like YouTube, they not only have plenty of copy-cat sites but with a few clicks you can find many full feature-length movies to watch streaming. You can’t get any movie you want so sometimes you end up watching whatever.
The other day I happened to watch the beginning of an action movie called Crank. The movie isn’t important here. It’s something odd my friend noticed about the subtitles.
In one scene the bad guy tells the hero he injected him with poison. Sorry for the cursing, but the character says:
the shit I gave you is some fucking high tech sci-fi Chinese synthetic shit that even I don’t know exactly what the fuck it is. All I know is once it binds with your blood cells, you’re fucked, baby… and believe me, it’s done binded. By now you’ll be feeling your joints stiffen up… hard to breath…
I bolded the word “Chinese” because my friend who could read the subtitles told me that they changed the word to “Japanese.”
Is it me or do you consider that pathetic? On several levels in many ways I see it as lame. The creative person in me objects to someone changing the voice of an artist. That this movie is not Citizen Kane doesn’t matter. The movie’s creators wanted to say something and someone changed it.
But I’m more interested in the leadership perspective. Someone chose to make this happen and that choice has consequences. You might say it’s insignificant and wouldn’t affect much. Maybe, but you don’t know how big an effect will be when you make the choice.
Leadership and responsibility
I tagged this post under “Leadership” because someone somewhere decided to create and implement a policy that resulted in changing a line in a movie obviously not from China to make Japan look bad instead of China. Someone either takes responsibility for the change or shirked that responsibility.
When I was in China a few months ago they were arguing over sovereignty of some islands in the Pacific in the context of centuries of animosity (and friendship). Boats from each country collided, private citizens got involved, protesters rioted.
People wonder how disputes escalate when leaders ostensibly want peace. Policies that result in translations like this contribute. Little things here and there, especially when sanctioned by the government, lead to disputes like the island dispute. Personally, I don’t see that great a leap from small instances of censorship to a dispute over small islands becoming big and belligerent instead of minor and reasonable.
Unfortunately I also don’t see that great a leap from minor island disputes to full-blown global crises over islands like the Cold War saw. Of course, for small-scale censorship to contribute to full-blown global crises, you need context beyond the responsibility of whoever created and implemented this single-word change, but still, people decided to do something that contributed. Somebody chose and their choices have consequences.
You may be in a position to make such choices sometime. You might hinge your decision on the magnitude of its effect, not caring if you consider it minor. I suggest what matters is the direction. I’ve written before on how every word you say counts and on how every moment counts — or at least you can choose to take responsibility to make every word and moment count. Or you can shirk the responsibility and blame other people for problems.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book