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Voted with his feet?

[ 2011-12-20 14:02]     字号 [] [] []  
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Voted with his feet?

Reader question:

In this sentence - West voted with his feet by leaving Harvard and returning to Princeton – what does voted with his feet really mean?

My comments:

First, let’s make sure of what “voted with his feet” doesn’t mean.

To “vote with one’s feet” doesn’t mean that you actually write your name and the choice of your candidate on the ballot sheet using your feet instead of hands.

No, that is not the case with this idiom. As it is with idioms in general, you can’t take a phrase like this at face value.

“Vote with one’s feet” is a metaphor. It means one chooses to cast their metaphorical vote of approval or disapproval of a situation by moving their feet, i.e. doing something.

In other words, they let their action do the talking. In the above example, West, by leaving Harvard and returning to Princeton, shows that he really prefers Princeton to the other school after all.

That’s what “voted with his feet” really means – that is, to show his preference by some concrete action.

For instance, in the divided states of America, some states allow gay marriage. Many others don’t. Say, you’re gay and your state doesn’t allow you to marry a member of your own sex, you move to, say, San Francisco. Then you have voted with your feet by moving to California, meaning marriage-wise, you prefer California to whence you come.

Anyways, another good idiom from that great divided United States of A, where all manners of cultural diversities co-exist, peacefully or otherwise.

And on at least one thing all 50 states of America are united, though – everywhere you go, voting with your feet is allowed.

Or rather, the metaphorical practice is commonplace and the phrase is universally understood. Well understood.

Here are a few media examples, not just from America but the world over:

1. Petrus voted with his feet at age 12 by coming to the streets. He had a dream - to be a policeman - and The Homestead helped him to reach it. Now 26, he is a SAPS officer. He could so easily have been on the other side of the law if he wasn’t given a chance.

Most Street Children are like Petrus. They leave home because the situation there is intolerable, and they believe there must be another way to survive. We have all seen these children – dirty, ragged, picking through dustbins. They have been subjected to degrees of neglect, deprivation and abuse that we can only guess at. Yet, despite it all, they remain just children, with their dreams and aspirations and the strength to try and reach them.

The Homestead has helped hundreds of Street Children to rebuild their shattered lives over the last 22 years. Like Petrus, many have achieved success in adult life. If there were no organisations working with these children, the likely alternative is that they would end up in prison. Their options diminish as they become older, without skills and values. The Homestead’s projects help boys to get back into the educational system, and back into the community where they come from and belong. Their own pride in their achievements is reward enough for all those who help them.

- Petrus visits The Homestead, Homestead.org.za, August 2, 2005.

2. The Canadian presence in Afghanistan has been mired in criticism since it was announced. When the federal government announced in February 2003 it would send peacekeepers to Afghanistan rather than provide military support to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, many pundits said it was because the military was too small and already stretched too thin.

Then-Defence Minister John McCallum denied the claims. “The government’s commitment to Afghanistan does not reflect any lack of confidence in the combat capabilities of Canada’s army,” he said, speaking at a defence conference in February 2003. “Quite the contrary, our soldiers are outstanding Canadians who are fully capable of carrying out difficult combat missions.”

But some high-profile military critics have questioned the timing and wisdom of the mission.

Prominent among those is retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie, a veteran of nine peacekeeping tours, and commander of UN troops during the 1992 siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian war. He says Afghanistan will by no means be a cakewalk.

“The idea of peacekeeping as being helping old ladies across the street in Bangladesh is false,” he said in an interview with CBC News Online, explaining that peacekeepers are very much in a dangerous position, especially in Afghanistan.

“Looking from the Canadian soldiers' perspective, they'll be well-trained to do the job, but they’ll have to be alert,” said MacKenzie.

He’s not alone in raising concerns about the potential dangers of the mission. A few short days after Ottawa announced it would send the peacekeeping force, the man responsible for charting possible directions for Canada’s military, Maj.-Gen. Cam Ross, voted with his feet and resigned his post.

In a commentary written for The Globe and Mail, military analyst Scott Taylor says Ross’s move came in apparent protest against the government’s decision not to follow his recommendation to stay out of Afghanistan.

- Canadian peacekeeping mission comes under fire at home, CBC News Online, January 27, 2004.

3. It’s encouraging to see that Americans have been voting with their feet against the big banks that played such a pivotal role in the nation’s recession.

Local banks and credit unions have reported increases in the number of new customers coming through their doors. Anecdotally, it’s clear that a good proportion of those customers are fleeing from big banks and finding a safer, more reliable and more responsible refuge by keeping their money local.

Bank of America’s dalliance with new fees on debit card charges was the most recent fuel that fed the customer walkout. Faced with an unusually large number of customers pulling out, the bank rescinded the fees, as did other big banks.

Those fees were but the latest reason people have withdrawn their money. Anger over bailouts and enormous corporate bonuses, increased fees, layoffs of thousands of rank-and-file bank employees, and frustration and anger with corporate greed have all played their roles. Local banks didn’t take part in the reckless lending and excesses that led to the nation's financial collapse. They stuck with more mundane, yet responsible, lending and business practices. As a result, no local banks required bailouts, and all of them stand on strong financial ground.

Says Michael Jones, president of the Institution for Savings in Newburyport, “You’ve got some pretty solid community banks here. They’re probably a better investment than government bonds.”

But there is some irony to this. The local banks that did the right thing are now subject to the same expensive regulations that have been applied to the big banks that got us into the economic mess. It’s an unfair situation that has drawn criticism from people as ideologically diverse as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.

We should seek ways to promote corporate responsibility, and the banking crisis is certainly a case in point. Customers voted with their feet and their wallets, and it sends a powerful message.

People who flee from the big banks have plenty of local choices. There’s a healthy competitiveness between our local banks and credit unions, and that is good for the customers they serve.

- Our view: Some banks too small to fail, SalemNews.com, November 18, 2011.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Can of worms?

The great leveler?

Slap on the wrist?

Fear of God?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)