Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Wolf In Somebody

A friend of mine told me about a woman who used to work with him. She was about thirty-nine or forty years old. He’d mentored the woman for a couple of years, gave her room to fully integrate on the job, and with the other staff, shared his responsibilities with her, enabled situations that allowed the establishment of her own identity in the work environment, and gave her the kind of respect that empowered her development.

On a very regular basis the woman brought my friend (and his wife) bags of fruits and vegetables from her garden, she baked breads, cakes, and cookies for them, and told him how much she enjoyed working with him. She told my friend’s boss what a great situation she had with him, how much she loved her job, and how she didn’t ever want to work anywhere else.

And then there arose cause for moderation of her social behavior on the job. My friend’s boss suggested that he talk to her about it, which he did. The woman denied the need for any change, suggested she didn’t even know what he was talking about, cried, and then pouted for a couple of weeks. It had become very clear to him that she was incapable of accepting any correction. She said her feelings were hurt.

Feelings: The preferred weapon of the weak.
Feelings are what the woman used to effectively transform the idea of ‘correction’, in her mind, into the word ‘criticism’, and then ‘Criticism’ into ‘CRITICISM’, internalizing the situation so that it became about her feelings rather than about the need for change. Criticism is much easier to deal with than correction because correction implies the need to take responsibility for a particular action or behavior. As long as one can fall back on hurt feelings, one can maintain the defensive, and protective, posture of having been the victim. Those who embrace victim-hood wield feelings as a very powerful weapon. But feelings, as I have said before, are the weapon of the weak. They are the domain of the adolescent, the kingdom of those not yet come of age, or too afraid to grow up. She embraced her feelings, imposed them on my friend, and used them to avoid personal accountability, and to put off actually dealing with the situation with the courage and honesty required to effectuate a solution.

She reinforced within herself the power of tears, and the manipulative strength of her feelings. But as my friend suggested to me about his situation, “just because she cried, it does not necessarily mean that he ‘made’ her cry”. And particularly when the vast, and overwhelming, majority of adults would not cry in such a situation. Most children wouldn’t. Says more about the recipient (victim) of the correction than it does about the messenger. “I ask myself”, he said, “would the man have cried if the woman approached him in like manner, and with the same correction? Of course not, and if he did, the woman would certainly not have been accused of ‘making’ him cry. He would be considered ‘fragile’, unstable. A double standard, to say the least. Sexism at work in the work place.”

Now, I told my friend that the woman should not be judged for her weakness, nor should he think less of her for wielding her feelings as a weapon. It’s unlikely that she intended to. It’s more likely that it was just the most comfortable, and familiar, place for her, the place she has always gone when she has felt threatened. People have a lot of pain in their lives, from a myriad of circumstances, much of which has been beyond their own control. And I am smart enough to know that the weapon, more often than not, actually chooses the individual. The individual becomes compromised to the point where whichever weapon most naturally, and comfortably, fits their grip is the one that will settle into their hand. It is more a ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ response than of a malicious, or retributory intent. I told him that it’s what she does with her feelings after that, that matters.

My friend agreed with me about the dynamic, but said, “it gets worse”, then went on to explain that at about the same time it was all happening, it was also beginning to become clear that between the two of their jobs, one of them was likely going to be eliminated. Ultimately, one person would need to be moved into another position at the company in order to make room for the addition of a more senior position. The woman was terrified of change, scared to death, and knew my friend had both stature, and seniority, by many years, so she began soliciting sympathy for her ‘he made me cry’ posture. It grew from there to a long list of all of my friend’s ‘inappropriate’ behaviors, all the things that made her ‘afraid’ of him, twisting every good and supportive action of his over the previous two years into a threatening and intimidating mine field for her to have had to navigate. He said his situation began to remind him of the old axiom “No good deed goes unpunished”.

She spread the accusations and innuendo among the same group of co-workers that my friend had always enjoyed a kind, and mutually supportive, relationship with. And she brought the lies to his boss. Engaging in a vicious, and calculated, attempt to undermine him in order to take his job, but with little to no possibility of succeeding, she made the ultimate accusation against my friend, the one thing that she thought would assure her of coming out on top of the situation. She accused my friend of ‘sexual harassment’. Of course, she said it happened a year ago, and that she couldn’t remember what he’d actually said to her, but nevertheless, it was sexual harassment.
My friend was told of the accusation, and questioned about it, by his boss. His response was that he would not dignify the accusation. He would not submit to a review, go before a panel, or a board of inquisitors (judges), and that she could tell them exactly that. My friend told me that if anyone was going to submit to a review, it was going to be the forty year-old woman who proved to have the psychological/emotional makeup of a desperate adolescent.
"What the woman didn't know", my friend said, is that "I was planning on leaving the job in about six weeks, with the intent of her inheriting the position. I had always mentored her towards that end."

As I learned from my friend, the woman has, for many years, been indulging in a steady diet of nightly ‘Slasher/Horror’ movies (dvd’s), accompanied by weekly doses of Survivor. As I have always said, and as I told him again, “What you’re filled with is, inevitably, what spills out when you’re tilted.”
She got tilted.
Her hostility, vindictiveness, and aggression were mixed to perfection.
They spilled out like toxic waste.

According to my friend, the woman was ultimately transferred to a different situation, where she will, most likely, bring bags of fruits and vegetables from her garden, and begin baking breads, cakes, and cookies for whoever has stature, and seniority, over her there.

In thinking about my friend’s ordeal I am reminded that we used to have children’s stories to prepare us for many of these real-life situations.

Little Red Riding Hood, the story of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, comes to mind.
It’s funny, but as humans, we don’t ever really want to see the wolf in somebody.
We prefer to see the lamb, but unfortunately, it enables the proliferation of wolves.

I don’t know if parents still read those kinds of stories to their kids.
But I hope they do.