Charli Mills has challenged us this week to deal with a bully. March 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows the bully mentality countered with a different, unexpected or kind action. Bullies can be known or incognito; Goliaths or small-minded; in-person or online. Think of ways to unplug a bully’s power. Show characters with strength and dignity and even humour. Back one hundred years ‘bully’ was an adjective meaning superb or wonderful. Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase ‘bully pulpit’ as a grand platform from which he could get his point across – the White House was just such. The only current usage seem to be in the phrase in the title and even that is now commonly used with a sarcastic tone.
Now a bully, be it at an individual, corporate or national level, is something to be abhorred. I suspect very few of us have not suffered some form of bullying. It might be mild and short term – some teasing that goes too far and begins to hurt, some passive aggressive behaviour in an office environment that prevents us being our best. We will be scarred, maybe only temporarily but we will remember those incidents. I’ve been fortunate to avoid the worst that bullying can involve but I’ve not been immune. For example…
I was a young lawyer, maybe a year qualified, perhaps two. We had one female partner in our group, a lady of ferocious intellect and demanding standards. Let’s called her, hmm, the Medusa. Some felt intimidated and it is true she needed to work on her people skills but I enjoyed working with her because she always took on the interesting, aka difficult, projects. This particular job wasn’t large but it was complicated and had been going on for a while. Gradually I was left to handle the detail with Medusa coming in for consultations when needed. Then the dynamic changed; the local lawyers the tenant had been using were dropped and this well known bully of a city lawyer brought in. I’d not come across him at this point – I’d vaguely heard his name – but when Medusa came into my room, looking ashen I gathered she’d been given a grilling.
We needed to draft, in short order, an agreement allowing the tenant to move in and start a basic fit out – back in the 1980s the biggest problem with setting up an office was securing the telephone lines from British Telecom. There was only one provider, the nationalised telecom industry, and it could take months to order the lines – you daren’t miss the slot you were given or you went to the back of the queue. I know a lot of errors have been made with privatisations but putting the telecoms business into the private sector, in my view, has not been one of them.
I was charged with the task of producing something. I scribbled a couple of ideas but I needed a clear head so went in search of a coffee. No Starbucks or similar back then, just a small kitchen three floors down. I’d be ten minutes maybe.
When I returned to my desk my scribbles were missing. I knew where I’d find them – in Medusa’s room. Sure enough Medusa had her head down writing frantically; she said nothing apart from ‘Sit’. I waited; she finished her scribbles and despatched me to her secretary to have the agreement typed up and then sent to the other lawyer.
Once it was on its way she called me back and told me that my performance, which to that point had generated no adverse comment, was sadly lacking and I needed to pull my socks up. Or some such. I was mortified and not a little aggrieved. I convinced myself I might as well find a new job.
That night the Textiliste told me to be patient. She pointed out how I should have explained where I was going – I knew how anxious the Medusa was. One bully, she said, had created a second and I was at the bottom of the chain. She was right. I saw my error but I also saw the Medusa’s and I vowed, were I ever to find myself in a similar situation I would absorb the pressure and not pass it down.
With some objective help, I turned it into a positive outcome – the Medusa became one of my biggest supporters, four or five yeas later when I was put up for partnership. And I hope, whatever else I did I never put anyone in a similar position when I was leading the transactions.
You can’t always see the solution yourself. But the sense of hurt, of inadequacy, can hold us back from seeking that help. Happily I knew I had unconditional support, whatever I did, from the Textiliste. Somehow we need to try and help people feel they too have that support.
It was understanding the cause of the bullying that made it possible to move on from it and not be damaged by it. Maybe that’s what we will find a we turn to this week’s flash. We are, as usual, back with Mary. Her half brother hasn’t been around for a while… If you want to catch up click here.
Blood will out
‘Have the police told you?’
‘Yes Rupert. They have interviewed me…’
‘So why not tell me? Christ Mary, our father wasn’t some religious nutter.’
‘I know, but they…’
‘They said you called them, that you found the body?’
‘Yes. We were preparing for the sale…’
‘And no word to me? Dumping me in it like this? They pulled me out at work, you know?’
‘I’m sorry.’ Mary squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t need Rupert’s hectoring. ‘Why not come round? We can decide what to do.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘He was our father. That makes us family, doesn’t it?’