Sunday, February 24, 2008

Small People

I saw those two women last week. Both of them, a few days apart. Women who made my life hell a few years ago.

You know how there are times in your life that are very vivid in your memory, that seem to stay with you almost as if they happened yesterday? That you find yourself thinking about when you are alone, even if it was years ago and you have supposedly moved on?

I was a young, new public servant doing exactly the kind of work I had trained to do. I loved it. I left home every morning to go to work, a bounce in my step, looking forward to being there. I loved the people I worked with. I was good at my job and I worked hard, sometimes not getting home until the early hours. It was work so challenging that it consumed all of me. But even though I was tired, I hummed like a machine on song.

Then the new boss, Leslie, arrived. She rapidly took a dislike to me. Not to my work. She loved my work. It was me she hated. She was rude, she was bullying, she was barely civil. And because I was young and earnest and inexperienced in the ways of bullies, I thought maybe the problem was me. I thought hard about what I might be doing wrong and how I might be failing. I tried hard to make her like me more. I realize now that that was utterly the wrong approach to take. Bullies respect strength. Give them an inch and they take a mile.

I was, in fact, quite good friends with my boss's boss, Julie. We got along very well. We were often the only two left in the office late at night and we had a kind of intellectual chemistry. We had a lot of good ideas, which we promptly put in place. I looked up to her. I admired her. In a way, I loved her. She was tough, but there was a vulnerability there that touched me. She treated me like a combination of daughter and whiz kid. I loved that, too.

Things rapidly went from bad to worse, as Leslie became more and more extreme in her behaviour. For some reason, it had been bearable as long as she was only being horrible to me. I used to focus on not showing her how much she affected me. We laughed among ourselves about the BQFH - The Bitch Queen from Hell. But when my colleagues began crying at work, it got too much for me. Then one woman, who had been majorly stressed and sobbing at her desk every morning, had a miscarriage. The Bitch Queen from Hell wouldn't even let her take any leave to recover.

I tried to discuss it with Julie, very tentatively. Her eyes, which had always warmed at my approach, went cold and dark. Suddenly, oddly, she looked like a snake.

The next day, I found out that my scheduled promotion had been withdrawn and my leave cancelled. My supposed friend never said a word to me again. I found another job, but she wouldn't release me for four long miserable months. We were seriously worried about our colleague, and so three of us put in a formal complaint, documenting everything that had happened. We didn't really believe that anything much would be done, but we thought we could at least get her released and she was. Although part of our complaint was actually about Julie, she was given the investigation to run.

I'm glad now that I told her then exactly what I thought of her behaviour. She cried unrestrainedly through the interview. We were sort of reconciled. We shook hands, in a wary kind of way, at the end of that interview. But I found out later that she rang all of our prospective new bosses and warned that we were trouble makers. She tried to trash my career, just for trying to tell her the truth.

I was sick for quite a long time afterwards. Probably partly because of the hours I had worked. But really, I was sick at heart. Even after I physically recovered, I didn't recover mentally. For a long time afterwards, I was obsessed with what had happened. With the betrayal I had experienced.

It's clearer to me now why I was so affected. The truth is that what I was suffering was not a trivial work problem, but a broken heart. People often think that it's only in the area of intimate relationships that hearts get broken, but it's not true. I had given my whole heart and soul and mind and body to that work, and I had been royally fucked over.

That was five years ago. Although it's stupid, the whole thing has continued to loom very large in my mind. I hate bullies. It's one thing I truly hate. I have seen the Bitch Queen from Hell from time to time and we studiously ignore each other. If she walks into our work cafe, I walk out. I just hate being around her. But I often think about her, and my supposed friend. I shouldn't, but I do. They take up mental space that I shouldn't give them. Somehow they have seemed larger than they really are.

I saw Leslie the other day, in the lift. And instead of staring at my feet and pretending not to see her, I said, "Hi, Leslie". We had a civil conversation. I know she didn't want to talk to me, to acknowledge my existence, but I made her. After the conversation, I somehow felt better, stronger, for being assertive with her.

And yesterday, I saw Julie, for the first time in years, in a shopping centre. She looked ordinary, utterly ordinary. Just another tired middle aged woman. She looked small.

Bullies are small people.


Blogger Sailor said...

Good for you Emily, bullies are indeed small. The best 'revenge', I think, is to do just as you did- rise above them, and learn how not to treat people from that example.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Bullies don't know how to deal with dignity and self-respect. They prey on the lack of those qualities and you were right to do everything you did. I'll bet you don't look like life had swallowed you whole and spat you out again Emily, but people who live with the knowledge of their destructive actions, often do, such as those small women.

Strong, wonderful post. Thank you.

3:01 AM  
Anonymous C-Marie said...

You got it, Emily - they're small people for sure! They think so little of themselves and the only thing that blinds them is their horrible egos! Way to go.. rising above them is exactly the medicine they deserve.

4:36 AM  
Blogger FTN said...

Wow, much of this made me thankful for the relatively stress-free work environments I've always had.

And yay for being assertive. Nothing like a few years of being bullied to teach wisdom and assertiveness! Sorry you had to go through all of that, though. Yuck.

9:06 AM  
Blogger akakarma said...

I too have suffered from admin's who were autocratic and just plain unstable. It's so sad that what we learn is to not let those with power into our hearts. Power can be abused so easily and have lifelong ripples. Great post E.

4:23 PM  
Blogger kimba said...

A great post Emily. Thank-you.
Yes.. tiny sad people who have big fears.

11:48 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Hi Emily, GREAT point about putting your heart and soul into work and getting a broken heart from it.

I suppose I could use your analogy to explain the source of my disgust and disrespect for certain people and things about my employer.

I am sorry you had to suffer, but I am glad you survived and hav emore strength adn understanding because of it!


6:53 AM  

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