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We need to consider why we do things

I am 25-year-old guy who has trained overseas as a chef. Now, I’m working in a hotel in Paro. I like the job but have been told to cut my hair or be fired. I don’t want to lose my job, but also I don’t want to cut my hair. Actually, I don’t see the logic behind the policy. I keep my hair clean and wear a chef’s cap in the kitchen. Also, I am not seen by the public, like a person at the front desk. What does lam think?

ST, Paro

To be honest, I’m also not sure of the rationale behind this rule. In reality, female chefs keep their hair long without compromising the hygiene of the kitchen. I’ve heard some people say that it is a discipline matter, but I have personally never seen any evidence that shows there is a correlation between a person’s length of hair and their level of discipline.

In lower and middle secondary schools, such rules help a child maintain their playful innocence and protects them from peer pressure to adopt the dress and hair styles of adults. Furthermore, it creates a level playing field, where youth from poor backgrounds do not feel inferior to those who can afford expensive hair-styles and clothes.

However, as you are an adult, the same logic does not apply. Anyway, I guess you only have two choices: You can politely present your argument to the hotel HR, but if he or she doesn’t agree with your point, then you have to consider what is more important – your hair or your job.

From the other side, I think that it would be a good idea for the hotel management to consider the purpose of the rule. Maybe there is a reason for it that I have not understood, but if it is just a convention that no longer has any real value, then perhaps they should change it.

When considering the matter, it may be helpful to reflect on a story that I once heard in Taiwan: “Before frying fish, a newlywed wife always chopped off its head and tail. When her husband questioned her about the habit, she responded that it made the fish tastier and that she had learned the technique from her mother. One day, when the husband met his wife’s mother, he mentioned this custom to her and added that his own mother never severed the head and tail of a fish that she was frying. His wife’s mother repeated what his wife had told him – that the fish tastes better when fried without the head and tail. She also informed him that the custom had been passed down from her mother. Later that year, the husband had the opportunity to visit his wife’s grandmother, and he mentioned his wife and mother-in-law’s cooking technique and told her that both his wife and mother-in-law said that they had learned this method of preparing fish from her. When she heard this, the old lady roared laughing and said: “Are my daughter and granddaughter really still preparing fish in this way?” She then added, “When I was young, we only had one small frying pan and to get the fish to fit inside the pan I had to chop off its head and tail.” In reality, there was a practical reason for preparing the fish in this way. However, that reason was no longer applicable. Yet, two generations later her descendents were still blindly following the custom.

So, you see, sometimes we need to consider why we do things and not just blindly follow conventions. On the other hand, it is important to not casually discard customs because we feel they are useless. In reality, the fault may not be with the custom, but with our own lack of ability to understand its deeper significance. In this regard, we should also be prepared to accept the advice and recommendations of people who we respect and consider wise and knowledgeable.

Anyway, with regard your question, you currently only have two options: to politely request your HR to allow you to keep your hair long and, if your request is refused, to consider what is more important – your hair or your career.

At the same time, it may be wise for the hotel management to consider the purpose of the rule. Maybe they will discover that there is good reason to impose a short-hair directive on male chefs. On the other hand, they may realize that the rule is similar to the chopping off the head and tail custom in the story.

In reality, all man-made conventions change according to time and place. What was once unacceptable a decade or two ago may now be perfectly acceptable. Likewise, former popular customs may now be totally unfashionable. For the harmony of society, it can be important to follow certain conventions, but, at the same time, we should not take them as ultimate, unchanging truths, but instead consider whether they are still valid and beneficial to society.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries

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