“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” – Winston Churchill
My primary work husband let some words slip today, in regards to me, that is currently traveling around our place of work. I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear what was said, though to his credit he gave generalities over specifics, knowing that if I knew more about the situation(s), it would or could make it uncomfortable for me in future interactions. He did, however, throw me a bone in that a female in a similar level and power as myself was, instead of clutching me to her bosom, also responsible for some of what was said. I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear that she was making noises about me, but, I was genuinely distressed to hear that she felt it necessary to gingerly throw me under the bus rather than embrace our uniqueness.
This is also not the first time, nor will it be the last, where my character has or will be called into question. Not in this current postion, nor in the past positions I’ve held. In the past, I’ve typically placed the blame on myself: I was too opinionated, too honest, too many whateverits and thus, it almost always got me in trouble. My work ethic and job performances were never criticized, no, but my personality often was. I’ve always taken responsibility and the blame for these things when it has happened, even if I was in right, because work politics is work politics, no matter how inane and how misguided they may be. As Omar from The Wire keeps saying, “You’ve got to play the game before the game plays you.”
I won’t say I was the subject of a witch hunt in past jobs, but I will say that there were often people in power over me who decided that while I did great work, they didn’t like me for whatever reason they felt fit. Our personalities clashed? I didn’t have enough degrees? I was INSERT SOMETHING. As I was/am always the junior person in these situations, it was/is always up to me to bend/contract myself to make the situation better, even if I disagreed with the bending or contracting. Simply put: I need my job, you say “jump!” I say, “How high!”. Not terribly unsurprising, no matter how much personal and professional training, including personal therapy, I imbibed in – you can only modify your personality so much. And in the end, even if you play the game, not everyone is going to like you no matter what you do. If you find out one day that I’ve hung myself by my belt from a doorknob? It’s murder, not suicide.
None of this is to say that I don’t recognize I have a strong personality, I stick up for the underdog, am opinionated, and am very vocal about those opinions. In fact, I’m incredibly hypersensitive in regards to my personality and its strongness for these very reasons. Lisa is not like the others, therefore she must conform. And this is probably the one and only time where I’ll admit Ayn Rand got it right: The “we” is often more lauded and celebrated than the “I” and to be an “I”, reveals a lot about one’s personality and self. You are truly an individual when you go against the grain, which is what I always seem to do. In the end, no matter how much individuality is supposedly celebrated, if you want to function in this society, you have to be a “we,” no matter what the biography of Steve Jobs tells you.
Sometime after conversations with Work Husband #1, my department attended an “Unintentional Bias” seminar presented by our diversity center. What struck me the most about the seminar is how much rang true about me and in this case, I realized that what I was dealing with was unintentional bullying, specifically towards me. Again.
People are going to be people, and, people are always going to talk. I do it, you do it, that’s pretty well accepted as a fact. Whether we’re gossiping about the stranger walked past us wearing a funny hat or someone we know dating a harpy, we gossip to build bonds, we gossip to connect, we gossip to sort each other out in our mental categories. Most of what is said is meaningless. Most of it is not intentional to harm or even meant to go beyond the breath that first uttered the words. But to me, once that meaningless gossip changes from being somewhat innocent to having an agenda behind it, it becomes a whole ‘nother beast. When it is calculated and there is a thought put towards what is being said, is when it becomes dangerous.
I was bullied, a lot, when I was a kid. Catholic school was rough and let me tell you there is no humour in that statement. There were two particular instances: In one, a new student, a boy, threw me down on the gravel and dry humped me while kids cheered on. We were 8? 9? 10? What distressed me wasn’t the act itself but that I screamed bloody murder while my classmates did nothing, the nuns and teachers, did nothing. When the bell rang to break recess, it was already forgotten.
Another instance, earlier, when I was younger, a bunch of girls ganged up on me and tried to take me on, four against one. I remember the scratchiness of my uniform skirt was the only thing that kept my legs from getting ripped to shreds by the chain link fence, I was pushing my weight against it so hard as the girls advanced. Something happened? I’m not sure but whatever was to happen to me, didn’t. But the threat and the menace was totally real. Is still totally real.
A third instance, almost forgotten, when I was older. A girl in my class used to tease me to near tears. One day, I had enough and turned to her with all of this hatred pouring out of my mouth. She did what I never did: she told the principal about what happened, what I said. When I tried to defend myself and protest that she had started it, that she had been egging me on for weeks, I was reprimanded for tattling. I remember being so scared that day, I peed my pants.
The bullying did not let up in high school, or in my early 20s, or even outside of work in some cases, even now. But why? I have no answers. As a kid, I could grope for the reasons, even remote, like my mother was a single, though divorced, woman with two children? She worked? I was taller then everyone? My dad was a drunk? My brother was a bastard? I was the only girl in the honors program? Who knows! So many things to mark me to stand out that I had no control over, so many things that go on now that I have no control over. And in a lot of ways, even now in subtle forms, the bullying continues.
Much of my personality is built on defenses. To protect myself, I offense. I verbally pee my territory so that you will not cross it. It works. I get tattoos not only because I think they are beautiful, but the stereotypes surrounding them protects me. None of what I’m saying here is a revelation or news – I’ve said it all before, I’ve written about it before.
Once I realized that what I was feeling was of shame of sorts from this “unintentional bullying,” things begin clicking into place. It made sense to explain though I loved my job, I wasn’t happy and also why somethings happening within me were leaving me to grope for words for others. It clarified why I felt angry all the time, even more so when I felt people aren’t standing up for themselves. You can’t do it? Okay, I’ll do it for you. I find myself often the champion of those who cannot do for themselves, because I do not want them to go through what I went through. What I go through now. So I take on their fight, it becomes my fight, I take on the world because taking on the world is easier then confronting your fears.
But being on constant offense is exhausting.
What Work Husband #1 told me today wasn’t awful, it wasn’t even as serious as I paint its picture, but it is the turning point of what is happening to me at my work culture and how I’m scrambling to survive. I have to survive, I’ve been told that by so many because I am vital and they care. But how does one survive without resulting to a shotgun and a whistle? How can I get the real contenders, the ones I have not mentioned here, to let up and leave me be so I can do my job? How can I do it with mustering as much grace and dignity as possible?
Those are the answers that I’m looking for, because I really don’t want to start robbing drug dealers to make things right.