Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Personal Experience (and a Probable Scenario for Anyone) as Depicted on Television

I watch TV, certainly more than I should.  I do not mindlessly channel surf, I have a DVR to record the things that I want to watch; there's probably not much of a distinction between the two.  Anyway, a show I watch is a half-hour comedy called "Louie", on FX.  It's based on the life and experiences of a comedian (played by real-life comic Louis C.K.).  I would call it a rougher variant of shows like "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthasium".  What's very good about these kinds of shows, is that in addition to being very funny, they depict realistic situations that many of us can relate to, and in fact, at least a few of us have experienced ourselves first-hand. 

Such a situation for me occurred in last week's episode, entitled "Bully".  "Louie" is also shown on the online service Hulu, although episodes don't appear until 8 days after they premiere on TV (I'll try to remember to post a link when this episode comes up).  In the episode, Louie is on a date and he takes her to a donut shop, where they have a donut and coffee.  Upon talking, a group of high-school punks come in the store and are being very rowdy.  Louie is not able to converse with his date due to the noise that these guys are making.  He tells them to keep it down, and one of the kids comes up to him.  The kid says to him, "when was the last time you got your ass kicked?"  After a minute or two of back-and-forth, the kid says that if Louie tells him "please don't kick my ass", then he won't.  With great reluctance, Louie does tell the kid to not kick his ass, please, and the kids walk out, mocking him.  His date is very turned off by this, and tells him, "my mind is telling me that you're a great guy, but the chemistry is telling me that you're a loser".  That is not the end of the story, but that is pretty much the gist of it. 

I could relate very much to this particular situation, as a similar (but at the same time, different) scanario happened to me around 6 months ago.  I haven't blogged on it because it took place at my job, but enough time has passed, and this episode struck such a chord in me, that now seems the appropriate time to recollect.  I work with a man who is extremely irritable and always grumpy.  From the day I started there, his interactions with me have been all attitude.  I have a thick skin and a tendency to turn the other cheek (which, with this man, I have learned can be a vital weakness as well as a strength and virtue).  One day, he pushed me too far by making a comment about how I do my job, which I take very sensitively, as I feel I do at least a better-than-average job, as my employers and fellow employees have told me.  I finally spoke up, quite loudly, and he of course, gave no quarter and was very hostile.  He then told me to pipe down before he'd put "a foot in my ass".  I then told him to go fuck himself, and he stepped closer and said "I'll kick your ass".  All the time my boss is shouting my name, understandly worried that a fight would break out.  I really did not want to walk away from this geriatric thug (this guy is at least 65 and very out-of-shape, so I certainly am not physically intimidated by him), but at the same time, fighting him could have very well cost me my job, even if he did start it.  So I reluctantly did so, and reported the incident; as it was not the first time I'd had a run-in with this guy, I was somewhat hopeful that they'd discipline him in a meaningful and substantive fashion. 

Which, of course, they did not.  After repeated inquiries (my job insists on doing these types of things privately, so I had no knowledge of any disciplinary measure or warning that took place), I was merely told that he was "talked to".  So that encounter is something I still think about a lot.  I question whether walking away was the right thing to do.  Although there's really no telling what would have happened had worse come to worse and we slugged it out, I had felt that walking away was the very worst thing that I could do, even though it really is supposed to be the right thing.  I think of how weak I must have looked to him and those who witnessed it. 

So this episode of "Louie", again, did strike something in me.  When someone comes up to you and threatens you, what really is the right thing to do?  Sure, if you're merely a bystander (or a viewer), you unleash your inner Steven Seagal and think "what's the matter with this guy?  Kick his ass!"  But in reality, I feel that most of us would have probably frozen up like Louie did, even if the end result is for us to lose face in front of our dates or friends.  I do feel that I did do the right thing in my situation, but also felt that I lost some of my dignity in the process. 

As an aside, that scene also showed that the widespread claim that a woman prefers a man who is gentle and thoughtful is typically full of shit.  It is a woman's most basic instinct to prefer the alpha male; I only look at all the situations I've seen or have heard about to know that this is the case. 

So, I'm just wondering, if you are reading this, what would you have done in Louie's case, or in mine?

"Bully" is not up on Hulu yet, but when it is (probably on Wednesday), I'll post a link. 


Adel Shaker said...

This was nice analogy between the real life situation depicted in this comic episode and your 6 months ago situation.
I'm facing these sort of situations from time to time and I developed some understanding and thoughts which is somehow control my responding to these situations.
Firstly, Deciding to cool down the situation and avoid further escalation are reflecting many times wise and responsible character and risk assessor who is calculating his steps before rushing to the actions.
I'm not interpreting these decision as cowardliness but as wise and responsible behavior which require more guts and self control rather than the barbaric reaction to the escalation.
Secondly, these irritating situations require the wise interference from the boss by using the different conflict resolution techniques like arbitration or disciplinary actions. The loose working environment is causing these irresponsible guys to go far and cause disturbance in the environment.
Thirdly, I'm fully convinced that the other party as well has equally something to loose like me or even more. I repeat that to my self whenever I see that the situation is going toward the escalation stage and there is no return point but going to the escalation stage.
If I'm going to suffer I will make the other party to suffer as well and he will get out from this conflict wounded. I'm considering as well that if I'm going to choose this way I will likely pay a price either physically or morally but knowing that upfront gives me strength and solidify my internal front to face the situation since I'm fully aware about the consequences.

Jeff said...

Hi Adel,

Yeah, you're probably right on your first point, although it is hard for me to admit it. Only because the person making the decision to tone things down and avoid escalation might feel that way, but the others around him might see it in a different light, like the woman in that episode that I was talking about.

I do feel that my employer should have gotten more involved through, as you said, using techniques like arbitration or disciplinary action. I just think that we've (by we, I mean the U.S. in general, including businesses) have instilled a culture that includes the avoidance of responsibility. People want to have nice job titles and get paid for trying to do as little as possible. Also, a lot of people, IMO, tend to blur the lines to the point of being ridculous. I'm sorry, I'm not explaining this very well. What I mean, is that a lot of people tend to look at things in a grey area; in this prism, everything is complicated and not as simple as it seems. While, sometimes, things really are black & white and are that simple. It's likely that my employer looked at the situation, and found that since we were having a conflict, then that meant that we must have both had been at fault, equally. People like to put things in this light because it's easier for them, it's simple to cast both as bad apples than to single one out who might deserve it.

I always thought that he had less at stake than I did because if he'd gotten fired, he could just retire and draw a check. I don't have that option.

Your last paragraph sums up how I feel perfectly. Thanks for posting, I do read your blog and did not see you for a few weeks, so I'm glad that you're back.