November 15, 2019

I am NOT impressed! — a rant against ‘The Man’

I'm generally thought of a “nice” person. At least I've been told so often enough. I'm naturally kind, sympathetic, conscientious about things I promise and like to make people laugh (or at least crack a smile). I treat most everyone I meet — be they the Queen of England (well I would, if I met her) or the cleaning lady at the gym — with equal, friendly respect.

I feel you can learn something from anyone — often quoting my husband's story about gleaning a life hack from a homeless person seated at the old Horn & Hardart Automat. (He watched him tightly wind his dunked teabag in its attached string, squeezing out every last drop of flavor.)

People who meet me tend to like me. This isn't just vanity; I'm often approached by practical strangers with great affection. OK then, enough about my loveliness and me. Where am I going with this?

What I'm doing is sharing some background information in an attempt to explain why I find it so strange — and uncomfortable — to be confronted by a few individuals (and there always are a few) who, for some reason or another, absolutely HATE me. They regularly try to undermine my confidence, discount my opinions, ignore my expertise, and put me down at every turn. It's almost as if my natural self-possessedness offends them. My OKness with who I am challenges them in some way.

Lately I concluded that these people — the ones who hate me — must have something in common. And here's what it is: They are all “pretenders.” They pretend to be accomplished and knowledgeable and worthy of respect … while in actuality they are deeply insecure, phony social-climbers cloaked in egotistical self-importance that's unwarranted and undeserved. And I simply don't play (or even acknowledge) their game.

Unfortunately, what can make them dangerous — vs. merely annoying — is the fact that they are often in a position of some power, though usually in the minor leagues. It's been my experience that once a person of small merit is given even a little bit of rank, he will lord it over his minions as if he's been suddenly crowned king.

Ask any low-on-the-totem-pole fast-food employee about how he's treated by his manager — or any ordinary office drone, by his supervisor — and you'll get what I mean. It's almost as if to prove their worth in their elevated position, they must act as if everyone beneath them has no brains at all. If you want to see humanity at its worst, give a small person a title and a bit of control.  

It is exactly these “small people” — whether they be at the head of cultural institutions, publications, schools or ad agencies — that have hated me the most over the years. And I think I finally know why. Several reasons why, in fact.

Number One would be my behavior. Having recently, or not so recently, risen to a position of some importance in their narrow world, my haters are accustomed to being ass-kissed by everyone around them — especially by underlings and associates who wish to curry favor. But even if I do work for these bosses in some capacity — as a docent, a journalist, a teacher or sales exec — I never consider myself a drone employee but, rather, an independent agent.

If they solicited my time and labor (for pay or even as a volunteer), they supposedly value the service I have to offer. This service always reflects my best effort and ignores (rightfully so, I feel) any of their company's shifting hierarchies and drama games. I relate to my employers as I would to any sane person (i.e., as an equal) and, after I've known them for some time, as a friend to whom I'll proffer my honest opinion — sharp wit (or stinging barbs) included. If I see them about to commit what I consider to be a dumb blunder, I'll certainly let them know.

But they'll have none of that. Rather, they'll respond with all the vitriol and below-the-belt punches they can muster. By simply stating my opinion, they react as if I'd attacked them personally. I haven't, of course, but they won't even take a breath to reconsider before taking me on in a blaze of righteous indignation. And you know why? Because they can't stand to see the reflection of who they truly are in my eyes.

Is it my fault they're insecure in their roles as leaders — often with good reason? That they won't accept my help or advice because that would be admitting they don't know what they're doing? … and they don't. Rather, like many a politician, they prefer the yapping of “yes men” who earn points by massaging their egos to those who might point out some errors and call them to task. To paraphrase the oft-quoted sage: The wise man knows how little he knows; it's the fool who believes he knows it all.

I've been lucky to have had only a few such encounters with “great pretenders” — as I've labeled them — over the years. When I meet one, even now, their actions still come as a shock. But my friends out in the daily business world say I'm naive: inept “pretender” bosses are more the rule than the exception, they say. They are all too commonplace.

Which leads me back to my original question: Why do these people hate me so? Other than the fact that I don't treat them with deference (but I don't treat anyone with deference, per se), I figure it must be because I see right through them and — at some level — they know.

They know that I know they are under-qualified boors. And when it comes to dealing with people they feel un-beholden to, or in charge of (like me), they can become bullies as well. (You should see how charming and silver-tongued they act around potential clients — whom they want to reel in for business — or with those they consider higher up on the ladder, whom they would boot-lick to impress.)

Perhaps I took the story of “Hannah and her Seven Sons” too much to heart as a child. Not to mention Mordechai's refusal to bow before Haman. Infused into my conscience from my earliest days at Hebrew School was the lesson that Jews never bowed before false gods … or men, no matter their power or station.

Remaining independent minded can exact its price in the end. I tend not to withhold my opinion when unfairly reprimanded. I do not kowtow knowingly to an employer's ego. I've been fired several times for this, of course, and have managed to cut off my nose, so to speak, to spite my face. But there's something to be said for maintaining one's personal dignity. For being true to the value of being true, despite the cost, and always remaining true to oneself.

And you know what? I may be temporarily poorer, but at least I can sleep soundly at night, free of aggravation. In the end, it doesn't even matter who put an end to it first (i.e. who fired whom) — as long as I'm relieved of a bully boss's stress.

When it comes to dealing with pompous idiots, I still have the final word: I am not impressed!

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

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