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Of cacti and succulents and New Year's resolutions

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

We, the people, are discriminatory. You , me, he, she are all guilty of one of the most fundamental forms of discrimination. Yet, if we reject that attitude, we become better at so many things. Importantly, it all comes down to two fundamental prejudices. And, if you are a LinkedIn user, it's almost certain that you exercise it with every visit. Read on for why your New Year's resolution should be to reject this particularly unwise way of life.

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I read some good news over the past few days. TV presenter Andrew Zimmern has been fired. Good. That's one less TV program I don't have cluttering up schedules that are already full of things that do not enrich my life. He was fired for discriminatory comments against America's Chinese F&B providers, particularly restaurants. He's not the first one to be treated in such a way: there's one for saying homosexuality is against his religious belief and one for saying (in a non-pejorative way) "nigger." I didn't rejoice in their dismissal, because neither was being gratuitously offensive. Zimmern, however, has been getting away with just that for years. I stopped watching his "Bizarre Foods" (a globally distributed, American perspective, TV programme the sole purpose of which was to demonstrate things that Americans like him don't usually eat and to be "edgy" for which read "insulting") years ago when he made a programme in Malaysia where he was extraordinarily rude about durian (see photo, above). If fruit had rights, Zimmern would have been sued for libel. Nothing turns on the fact that he recorded the programme in Malaysia except that, by reason of its locality, the insult was, by extension, an insult against the people who eat "the king of fruits." His comments would have been equally offensive had he made them in other countries. There are several where the durian is grown and enjoyed and, importantly, is a source of revenue, via exports, for rural populations who have not given over their land to palm-oil or sugar production.

Zimmern's comments were discriminatory and offensive for one simple reason: the durian, at its best, stinks. The smell is so strong and pervasive that it is usual for hotels across South East Asia to ban durian from rooms. But, while different, the smell is, in principle, comparable to ripe blue cheese, stinky tofu or fermented shrimp paste, known by so many different names it's hard to identify it in some countries. His narrow, patronising, unfunny, opinionated attitude has no place in a world where discrimination as standard operating procedure is itself, rightly, demonised.

That thought, that discrimination is ubiquitous, came up when I was about to deal with a connection request in LinkedIn. It's that we have a tendency to keep with the familiar, the "people like us" syndrome that I referenced in my book "Understanding Suspicion in Financial Crime."

It was during a quick log-in to e-mail and then LinkedIn between Christmas and New Year that I found myself about to dismiss an apparently random connection request but, before I did, my finger hovered over the mouse button. The person making the request is from Pakistan and his business is selling cacti and succulents. How, I thought, can that have any relevance to me? How is that connection going to make me money (why else are we all here? Surely not because it's Facebook for people who (at least in public perception) wear suits to visit?)?

Then in the back of my mind, some things popped up - and it's why I'm not identifying the individual: