Thursday, March 17, 2016

I Only Hate Ben

Given the new rule, I will have to make peace with this species.
So I have this new life rule.

"Hate" is a really strong word, one I really don't like to use. But I, as with all of us, feel it. Sometimes very strongly and with very good reason. And I'm going to let that be okay because I think all emotions have an evolutionary protective value. When someone has personally wronged you repeatedly, there's a point at which you need to ask yourself, "What would be the better choice: 1) punching him in the throat right now? or 2) saying, 'I'm done,' and walking away...and actually being done, as in I'm not speaking to that person, except when I absolutely have to, ever again?"

At 48, I've learned a number of things. One is you can almost always avoid talking to someone for the rest of your life if you try hard enough (and, given social media, it now takes true effort), and the other is that I really don't want to go to jail.

So, because the older I get the bolder I get (I won't regale you with the CVS story, let's just say an entire group of people, including my mom, got really quiet after I had my say in one of their stores), my new rule is really a means of keeping me from incarceration, but I think it has other benefits as well, which I'll get to. But I like to go long.

Here's the rule: I'm allowed to hate up to five living individuals at any given time. And that means I allow myself a visceral response upon hearing their name, seeing them, and most especially being forced to interact with them.

To put it another way, I am allowing myself to count the number of people I hate on my right hand. This may seem arbitrary, but the way I figure it once the number jumps over to my left thumb, then I'm the one with the problem: I'm allowing hate to slowly begin to take over and pretty soon it will be in my heart.

And I don't want it there because I know what that feels like.

Flash back. If you teach in higher education, you work on a nine-month contract. Typically, the contract runs from August 15 to May 15. After May 15, you have no obligation to be on campus whatsoever. The thing is, finals are usually over and grades turned in well before the 15th. Now, my "chair" was on a 12-month contract, and unlike non-administrative faculty, had to be, literally, in her office chair from 8:00-4:30 (and really she created that obligation, no other chairperson had such a seat-time rule for herself). One year, she locked us up in a conference room 8:00-4:30 after grades were due but before our contract was up to revamp our curriculum. Yeah, she bought our breakfast and lunch, but we resented being there. And I'll be damned. After the week was up and we had mapped out all these potential changes, the decision (and I'm pretty sure it was hers) was to leave the curriculum as it was. We all understood that the entire situation had been an exercise in "I want you to see how hard I have it" on her part. And I hated her for it. And then I hated her boss. And then I hated her boss's boss. And then I hated a colleague. And then I hated a couple students who were being disruptive.

And that kept on going.

To an insane level.

Arkansas had been enjoying a remarkable stretch of lovely weather one March that I had enjoyed by reading the New Republic (still my favorite magazine) on the porch drinking a glass of wine. And, then, Ed Buckner (or whoever) forecasted a nasty onslaught of wintery weather. (Kind of similar to the current weather forecast, hence the inspiration for this post.) I went berserk. I was so pissed off at the weather, I wanted to stab it to death. My anger was so awful I was lashing out at people left and right. Any slight, any slip of the tongue, any gesture, became a reason for me to wage war.

A few years later, I quit that job over something trivial. But it gave me a year to step back and examine what had led to all that emotional upheaval. To a certain extent, it was my former boss's fault. Department chairs are experts in their field, but their field isn't usually management or leadership studies. They haven't been taught to lead effectively or share leadership, so they tend to be reactive and minute you're friends, the next minute she's pulling rank and yelling at you for not guessing what she wants from you.

Here's the thing: I shouldn't have hated her for that, but I was too young to understand her situation. And I was too afraid of her to walk into her office and say, "Hey, I think you should know I'm unhappy in my work."

Now, through a series of unfortunate events, I've learned when hate is appropriate: when someone manipulates you to do something you wouldn't normally do for their own gain, lies to you repeatedly, treats you with willful disrespect, tries to tarnish your reputation among your friends and colleagues? Own your right to hate THAT person.

Just remember this, when it starts to seem like even the weather is out to get you, you may be the one with the problem.

BTW, I have four empty fingers on my right hand. I am working to keep them empty.

Also, the Hubs, my ever-faithful editor, titled this piece. And we both laughed.

Update: I thought about that last line, and I realized that working things out, being on each other's side, wanting what's best for someone else, may actually look pretty bad. Yelling, sending each other links to sites to fully inform, stomping off and saying "I'm not talking to you for a while," may be ugly but helpful in the end. Plato said it best: When you truly love someone, you want to be a better person for them.