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in words, sights and sounds

People never cease to amaze me. I thought I had a relatively reasonable knowledge of human nature, a good gut feeling when it comes to assessing someone’s character. Well, I still think I am doing relatively well in terms of sussing out my fellow humans. Luckily, I have a few very good friendships, which have grown over the years, with people who I can trust and rely on them to the full.

However, at times the behavior of fellow human beings renders me speechless.

The regular a-hole

Let me get one thing straight at the onset: I do not have a problem with people towards whom I have only low expectations in terms of ethics, “decent humane behavior” and trustworthiness in the first place. Frankly, I am used to dealing with a-holes. Who isn’t? You know what you have to expect and, if you also see what you get, you can deal with them perfectly well. After all, in a work environment this is what almost everyone of us is exposed to and has to deal with at one point or another.

The shocking kind

However, every once in a while, one or the other fellow human manages to shock the hell out of me. This is usually the case when I have totally misread a person. The actual state of shock is usually triggered by an unexpected emission of venom or – also a nice one – living proof of a total lack of empathy towards others. Often times, these two things go hand in hand. The tricky thing about these cases is that you don’t see it coming – your expectations were much higher, you don’t expect anything bad and – POWWWW – you get a fist punch right in your face.

Yesterday, I witnessed this occurrence: a former colleague, who has recently acquired a position of power, completely trashed another colleague and very close friend of mine to a big shot in my organization, giving her very negative character references, most obviously trying to ruin my friend’s reputation. The colleague went out of her way to make clear to the big boss that my friend was – allegedly – seen as a troublemaker, “not a team-player” with “too much negative energy” and, this is the most telling bit “too critical”. Bottom line: a person one should not hire.

Such talk would not have been as shocking to me if it had remotely to do with my friend’s personality and character. But those allegations are made up.

My friend is very kind, open-minded, going out of her way to reach out to others, brilliant in what she is doing, committed and hard working, and – yes – constructively critical if required. A ton of former bosses and colleagues can confirm that.

Still, what’s been said has been said. Something always sticks.

The most disgusting aspect of the story is that my friend, who – by the way – has always been very collegial to Ms. Venom, had consulted her regarding a job vacancy in her department. Ms. Venom had offered to help. My friend didn’t have big expectations in this regard but she certainly didn’t expect to be trashed.

A tormented soul?

Let me give you an idea of Ms. Venom’s psyche: She is known to be rather shy, uptight, very dutiful, a soldier-like bureaucrat…and at the same time she is one of those who never stand up for their beliefs, are too afraid to articulate any form of criticism (what one would expect from a senior manager), never rock the boat, never ever contradict the party-line, suck up to the powerful, live for their career etc. You get the idea…

My friend and I, as well as many other colleagues, knew of her (significant) limitations. We thought she was one of the better and less harmful “regular a-holes”. What we missed was her potential for aggression, her readiness to harm.

The bubble of delusion

After much thinking about this experience, in my post-shock stage, I have come to the conclusion that people like her are extremely afraid of those who are stronger and braver; who have a certain level of confidence and self-esteem; who could burst her bubble of delusions by asking a simple question, by being critical thinkers; and who potentially could shake her to her very foundations through their presence alone.

The amount of venom was so incredible that I can only see it as some sort of desperate defense mechanism to keep away those who she perceives as a threat to her pitiful little life.

I wonder if she feels better today.

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