Monday, January 19, 2015

Could "nonviolence" include not-running-away (from the person who annoys you)?

I've been dreading my 90-day job performance review on Thursday, a review I asked for. My boss is super-nice and never less than pleasant, never stands in my way, and yet never helps me much either. She left me alone on my 2nd day on the job, saying, "It's all yours!"  Since then, unless I hunt her down, I only see her in passing. 

Besides that, I realize I've built up resentment toward her for being so unrelentingly sweet. If I complain about anything, I feel as if I'm chopping a marshmallow with a hatchet, while for me, far from being useless whining, venting is the best preamble to brainstorming about how to deal with hard stuff.

My resentment feels a little crazy to me, but I see myself in a favorite quote from Quaker educator Parker Palmer:
"When I think about people with whom I have the deepest sense of community, I think of people who have been able to share with me their contradictions, their brokenness--thus allowing me to share mine.
When we present ourselves to the world as smooth and seamless, we allow each other no way in, no way into life together. But as we acknowledge and affirm that the cross is the shape of our lives, we open a space within us where community can occur."
Yes, that's it: if I can't share my "brokenness"---my confusion or annoyance or heartbreak at working with people living with dementia, I don't know how to keep working well. And yet instead of welcoming this chance to work on improving things with my boss,  I want to cancel the meeting.
I want to quit my job.

I have quit many things in my life because I was too scared to face my own annoyance or to try to practice using my power (or even avoid thinking I had any---so much nicer to feel the powerless victim).

But Parker Palmer also said, “Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” 

Ohmygod, yes.
This reminds me of the book I'm reading, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Bolz-Weber was raised in Christian Fundamentalism (a culture I've learned a lot about from Marz). She rejected it in dramatic ways (the Ramones! vodka! stand-up comedy!), eventually becoming a Lutheran pastor. 
 She says:

So these people and ideas buoy me.
I'm not crazy to feel it, but there's really no avoiding my own resentment because it comes along wherever I go, like the sunset.

Still, it scares me to ask for changes, so I want to believe nothing will change, so why bother?
Maybe-- probably!-- nothing much will change, but what have I got to lose by trying? 

Well, that's a silly question: I can lose a lot. For instance, I can lose my calm; I can lose my sense of myself as nice and [emotionally] nonviolent by having to face my irritability and resentment.

While quitting has rescued me from conflict and annoyance (temporarily), it is hardly nonviolent.

Quitting jobs, leaving town, ending relationships (or not entering into them in the first place), not speaking up can be a kind of violence in that it can inflict injury or damage--not through action, like physical violence,  but through inaction.

I like that the Catholic prayer the confiteor ("I confess") includes the omission to act-- that is, passivity when action is called for-- as something to be confessed,  and one confesses to "all the angels and saints, and to you, my brothers and sisters" for "what I have done and what I have failed to do." 

Anyway, I've been thinking about nonviolence lately--it seems in short supply-- and today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As I've gotten older, the principle of nonviolence seems less like a spiritual or emotional virtue and more like an effective political & interpersonal tactic. 

I used to think "Love your enemy" meant you had to like everybody (hmmm... is my boss trying to do that?). Now it sounds to me more like "the buck stops here": i.e., I will use love to muffle violence so it doesn't keep reverberating. Not romantic, not fun, nothing to do with liking anyone, and possibly dangerous . . . but possibly also effective.
And possibly not.

Well, maybe I won't be able to improve my workplace, but lowering expectations and raising my courage, I am going to try. 

I can always leave town later.


Zhoen said...

Your boss sounds so like mine. I can see all the cracks through her, but she is shiny and absolutely certain, and flares to anger at any hint of contradiction, mostly in her own imagination.

As for the running away, you speak straight into my quitting heart. Only when I have someone to fight for will I stand and speak.

We see in others not what is there, but what is in ourselves. The more they irritate, the more important the lesson we need to learn from them. Which sucks, and I've usually just walked away rather than deal.

Fresca said...

Thank you, thank you, Zhoen, for knowing what I mean!
I wrote this is a fog of dismay and wondered if it would make any sense.
It's really nice to get this recognition.

And you add a good point:
" Only when I have someone to fight for will I stand and speak."

It helps me to remember that I do this work and try to improve the conditions not just for me but for the residents, who can't speak up for themselves anymore.

poodletail said...

"Lowering expectations and raising my courage": thank you, fresca. This is now officially my motto for 2015.

I look forward to learning how this meeting turned out for you.

Your boss? She has a shitty job.

Fresca said...

POODLE: "Hope for the best, expect the worst" as they sing in Mel Brooks's The Twelve Chairs.

A shitty job, managing *me*?

No, I know what you mean. I would not want her job at all. I think if she would communicate & collaborate MORE with me, it would lighten her load---we could truly do more together than we can alone.

Julia said...

That kind of shine is bad for trust--we all know it's a lie! It's like people who can't admit when they're wrong. I need to calibrate people for who they are and posturing omniscience or unbrokenness are both impossible. When people (especially those in power) fake those characteristics, it's so counterproductive to teamwork, motivation, community, solidarity, etc.

I love (love love!) that line of the confiteor as well. Looking at the negative space, the places where I am not and I have not acted and where my apathy or silence has caused pain/violence or allowed pain/violence to continue without checks or witnesses. I feel like that's overlooked in most popularized views of morality and ethical behavior, which tend to focus only on the visible and the actionable. It's just as important to ask who is not at the table, who is not included.

I am glad to hear that you are pushing yourself to take advantage of what you can learn and experiment with in this situation before potentially moving on. That takes courage!

Fresca said...

JULIA: That's it: I don't trust someone who's so shiny.

Glad you too like the "things I have failed to do" line.
Hm... that could be a book title,
"Things I Have Failed to Do".

Yes, I too think it's overlooked---maybe because Americans are such take-action people?
The John Wayne School of Ethics and Morality.

Thanks, I am trying what I can to see how I can make this place work for me (so I can work there), adn yeah, I am having to screw up my courage.
We shall see...

poodletail said...

Zzzzzingggg! Look at your response to me, fresca. Just put it out into the big universe and you never know what might happen.

ArtSparker said...

chopping a marshmallow with a hatchet

bears some relation to being stabbed to death with a rubber knife...

In any case, have to deal with this myself, with one of my father's carers. Niceness can be a sometimes hostile defense.

Fresca said...

SPARKER: Niceness as a hostile defense---yes. This reminds me of another blogger mentioning a class called "Coping with Difficult People"--the category includes people who are "super-agreeable/super-unreliable".