The Opossum Approach

Weird.  Apparently shitty workplaces are a popular topic.  The story has been hit over and over and over.  My readership stats have tripled, and most of them are to that post.  I have this book called the No Asshole Rule.  The guy who wrote it said it started as an article in Harvard Business Review or something, but he got so much feedback that he ended up writing a book.  Apparently, dreadful workplaces and mean people are pretty prevalent in good old America.  In fact a woman added a link to my post from her blog called www.DecontaminateToxicPeople.com.

Anyway, I think it’s sad we are all laboring, literally, in places that are horrible to work with people who treat us badly.  The thing I find amazing is that in most cases, other than the fact that we are forced to spend some amount of hours with them a week, our coworkers are generally not our friends, at least they weren’t before we went to work with them.  They are not the people we choose to hang out with because we met them and have a lot in common or whatever.  Some may become friends or lovers based on forced proximity, but for the most part, people who work together are all essentially strangers who give their time to a place to pay for their time outside a place.  Yet a large number of these people think it is okay to behave horribly to people they really don’t know.  How pathetic this is.  I guess it would be worse to treat someone you know badly, but there is a different kind of moral reprehensibility in treating a stranger in a wretched manner.

No, actually.  It’s all bad.  I sat here and attempted to separate out whether it is worse to be cruel to people you know versus people you don’t know.  Either one leaves me at the same conclusion:  it’s all bad.  I’m not much of a black and white person.  I can see the grey in many things, even in situations where many others can’t see anything but solid black or stark white.  But in this, in humans treating each other like crap, it all seems morally reprehensible.  I just can’t see where it’s justified.  Over and over I come up with situations in my mind where it might be okay, and I can’t justify any of them.  Well, I suppose it is alright to run over a little old lady who crosses the street against the light, but that’s it.  That’s the only time it is okay to be mean.

All kidding aside, this is my question…under what circumstances is it okay to treat another human being badly?  Because they treated you badly?  For revenge?  Revenge meanness is probably one of the most often employed reasons for hurting someone else.  I would argue against it because in treating someone poorly because they treated you poorly you become as they are in responding in kind.  And I just can’t think of any other reasons that aren’t patently objectionable on the surface, such as being mean because someone is black and you’re white, or not liking the look on someone’s face.  There are just no good reasons to be mean to each other.

Yet it happens. Over and over.  Apparently people don’t care if there is a good reason or not.  I suppose in most cases it has more to do with the person being a jerk than the victim.  Actually that’s probably it most of the time.  Inside the person feels worthless so they get some pitiful power out of being mean.  Or the person assumes no one likes them so they act like an ass to prove themselves right.  Or for some other psycho babble blah blah blah reason.  But these are still lousy reasons.  It says a lot about the state of mental health in most workplaces if this type of behavior is so prevalent, that there are a hell of a lot of people who feel bad about themselves and act this way to compensate.

Based on my own experience I wish I could say that the best response is to be kind and compassionate, and on some level I think that is necessary.  But from a practical standpoint, my experience was to stay the hell away from the toxic people and to avoid them at all costs.  I tried the being direct and professional approach.  They would use it to find a way to hurt me.  I tried smiling.  That seemed to make them mad and would result in some form of retaliation.  I tried being friendly and acting like there nothing was wrong, while simultaneously making damn sure my work was covered so they couldn’t sabbotage it.  That made them sneer and laugh behind my back about whatever friendly comments I had made (I caught them at this several times) .  Frankly, there was no way that I saw to behave except to stay as far away from them as possible.  Play dead.  The opossom approach.  That is the only viable method I advocate.  It might seem pathetic, but it worked.

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