Friday, 7 November 2014

Old Yeller...

Hello Friends.

Dr. Jon teaches a class on Thursday nights, so I usually use those nights to cook the dinners only I like and watch the shows Jon has no interest in. I’m embarrassed to report that those shows include a program I will call by its Spanish name, Escandalo!

Escandalo! is a soapy, melodramatic program that centres around Kerry Washington and her impossible cheekbones, and together they fix what’s wrong in Washington (the place), and the presidency. Kerry is having an affair with the President (Escandalo!), but has also uncovered a secret government organization that exists beyond the powers of the White House (Escandalo!) and she’s having another affair with the interim leader of that organization (Escandalo!) who holds the position previously held by Kerry Washington’s father (Muey Escandalo!). While the show purports to be about corruption and intrigue in the highest office in the land, it’s basically House of Cards for stupid people. In spite of myself, I am hooked.

One thing the show likes to do (with the subtlety of a freight train, btw) is examine the effects of power. Who has it, who wants it, what will they do to get it and keep it, etc. Kerry Washington is especially good at playing this dynamic as every subtle shift reads on her stunningly beautiful face. She’s a great actress, but lately her job has been to simply react to horrifying things, and you couldn’t find a better canvas. But I digress. Because it’s all about power, and because the show is a little ham-fisted in delivering emotional punches, everyone on Escandalo! is always yelling at each other. As much as I enjoy the escapism of a night time soap, I couldn’t last in that world for two seconds because I can’t handle being yelled at.

Dream: Handle being yelled at.

Goal: Achievable. When I say, “Being yelled at”, I’m defining things very loosely. I don’t mean someone screaming obscenities in my face, which nobody should put up with, I mean when someone belittles me, or chastises me like a child for some perceived transgression. I don’t understand this practice at all.

When I was a child, I stupidly thought that kids yell at each other, sometimes grown-ups yelled at kids, but grown-ups don’t yell at each other (and yes, that naiveté is the incredible privilege of growing up in the stable, happy home that 1/10 of 1 percent of all kids get, my brother and me among them). Consequently, as an adult, I don’t know how to respond when someone starts yelling. My stomach churns, my heart drops, and I am immediately cowed and subservient, even when I know that I’m not in the wrong and have nothing to be chastened for.

Plan: Shake it off.

How does Taylor Swift do it? With all the haters, and the fakers, and the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world?

Sometimes I wonder if I have one of those easy-to-yell-at faces. Like a droopy, “duh-duh” face. During one job I held, I caught my reflection in a window once after I was yelled at from a supervisor who had actually gathered other coworkers around for some kind of public shaming. My posture was defensive, my hands were shaking, and I had the stupidest look my face.

There was a director I have worked with who is notorious for his verbal tear-downs. Years of doing it had given him a lot of practice and he could, without warning, really decimate someone he was displeased with. People will always work with him, though, and I’m certain his tenure as a great director will continue because he gets great results. Loathe as I am to admit it, he knows that intimidation works. After a particularly blistering rebuke of someone on a rehearsal day, he sputtered, “I care about putting on a good show. I don’t care about everyone having a good time” or something to that effect. What bothers me is that both things are possible.

I can think of bosses, supervisors, directors, teachers, and other people of authority who get stuff done willingly by a happy crew. I have stayed in lousy jobs and worked really hard to please people like that. I might put forth extra effort into something if I don’t want to get yelled at, but I’m going to give my truly greatest effort when I’m helping someone that I respect. If you want to find stressed out people, go to a retail store or a restaurant. If you want to find calm people deftly handling stressful situations, go to the some of the stores where I have worked. I’ve seen managers on the floor all day getting shit from customers, then get a call from some head office and get shit from corporate when the day is done, and those managers then take their shit out on nobody. People don’t get yelled at, people get treated with respect, and the work gets done.

There are always going to be people that behave badly, who believe that threats of catastrophe is greater motivation than positive feedback. There’s no point in trying to change people who exhibit that behavior because often it gets results from chumps like me. But chumps like me can change how we respond to bad behavior, even if it means faking the shake off until we can successfully make the shake off.

Dr. Jon never yells at me, nor do my work colleagues, nor friends, nor family, and I don’t yell at anyone myself (at least I don’t think I do). Still, I think it’s important to remind myself that yelling itself is inevitable, but valueless. The more import I give to this lousy method of communication, the more likely I am to internalize it the next time someone yells at me. If yelling at James gets results, James better stop producing results to reinforce the behavior. It is then that I am the worst version of myself and likely to treat someone badly in turn, and that would be truly scandalous.

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