Last week, a conversation with my boss went something like this:
Him: I thought you’d appreciate this. Feel free to print out and keep next to your computer for future reference. You take one from each column and there’s your swear word.
Him: [image of a Shakespearean insult generator list]
Me: You’re the best boss *ever*
Him: Most of me is happy to help, but there’s a little bit of “am I enabling?”… but that goes away pretty quickly.
Me: And the entertainment value if you’re not in the splash zone is Immense!
I feel like this may have been a mitigation strategy he’s piloting to give me some less… um… trooper-esque options. But he wouldn’t fess up to that. So here we are.
We had another conversation about how my superpower was an uncanny ability to find and push people’s buttons. And my Oath of SuperPowerdom has no “only using my power for good” clause. So I catalogue that information like a curator at the Smithsonian, and tuck it away in my back pocket in case I need it. I mean, it’s always fun to get a rise out of someone – like telling my mom I’m going to get my eyebrow pierced. I don’t know why that sets her spinning off into the stratosphere; this is why we have an f*bomb contest. My sister and I press her buttons until we make her swear. Or casually mentioning to a particular co-worker that I think the moon-landing is a hoax (or some other fun conspiracy theory). And then watching him spin off trying to convince me. Dropping little Kubrick or soundstage comments and watching the ripple effect is very satisfying). I’ll gleefully press those buttons like a kid alone in an elevator. There’s no harm in the eyebrow piercings or Moon Landing brand of buttons.
But sometimes, knowing the vulnerable spot on someone’s soft underbelly isn’t as benign.
I’ve had a few nights of restless sleep punctuated by upsetting dreams. The kind of dreams that have a nonsensical plot once scrutinized as the final wisps of the dream evaporate in the light of day. But the feeling that those dreams have conjured beyond your ability to remember what it actually was that left you feeling that agitated. The one feeling that I managed to pinch between finger and thumb before everything else vaporized was that a long-ago slight was still hurtful. I don’t know which particular slight this might be referring to. There have been lots of them, over my lifetime. But it got me thinking about the kinds of mean spirited (even if not ill intentioned) comments that found their mark.
- When I was in grade 6 or 7, a boy said that I had a nice body but an ugly face. I’m not sure what inspired that comment; perhaps one of those stupid rate-the-opposite-gender games that fell cleanly under the “boys will be boys” excuse for juvenile misogyny-in-training when I was a kid.
- When I was in high school, the douchebag I had dated, who made me feel worthless for years said (once I escaped his particularly charming brand of gaslighting) that no one would ever love me except as a toy. It was his attempt to land one final knife in me and regain some of his lost control.
- When I was in university, a teacher’s assistant with poor self-esteem told me that I didn’t know how to write an essay – not a thesis statement, not a conclusion, and was doubtful about my ability to string words together to make complete sentences.
My feelings on these three anecdotes ranges from Aww, so sorry you have to compensate for a small penis by insulting me to Opinions are like assholes – everyone has one to Good thing I don’t care what you think then, huh? But when I’m in a low, dark place, like, say, a shadowy dream-state, my lizard brain says “What if they were right?” And then I wake up feeling vulnerable and damaged.
Then, once my heart rate and breathing return to a less panicked rate, I think it’s pretty hysterically funny. What does an 11 year old boy know about the worth of a girl? Boobs = good body? I get that there’s some irony in my adult response to “good body/ugly face” is an emasculating penis comment. What happens when a bully can’t puff up big enough to intimidate a victim anymore? They have a final desperate attempt to feel like a BigMan again, and then retreat to their sad, little lives. With their sad, little penis. (Gah. Maybe the impetus of the penis retort is proportional to the douchebaggery of the original volley?) And the TA, I dunno; she was mad that I dared to speak to the person sitting next to me in a seminar class. Perhaps if your self-worth is so tied up in being the center of attention you shouldn’t be looking for a career in academia. And I bet I make more money than she does. Suck on that, bitch.
But I digress, perhaps.
Tomorrow, I start a leadership training program at work. While I reallyReallyREALLY don’t want to go into management, I understand that leadership is a skill it behooves everyone to develop. It is a prestigious program and I’m glad to have been nominated to participate. I also know that most of the others in that program likely are on a management track. A mentor at work today said that I might find some of the effort frustrating because of this fact. And he wants to be up near the top of my list of people to vent to, should I require such a thing. There are gold-star people who seek the spotlight on their campaign for another rung in the ladder. There are people who nee-eee-ed to be praised. And these are the people who reveal their buttons so unconsciously and gloriously and for someone to note, catalogue, and store in their arsenal.
There’s a piece of pre-kickoff homework that involves deciding on your two goals for the (year long) program. One of the guiding questions to formulate my goals is How will you know you’ve been successful in the program. There’s got to be a professional way to say “I’ve FINALLY learned to use my powers for good”, right?
Oh man. I might be hosed.