Sunday, December 19, 2021

Why I wrote the blog post "Why I don't believe you"

In April 2021, I wrote a blog post "Why I don't believe you". 

So why did I write that?   What prompted that blog post?
I had a terrible experience -- a betrayal -- from a close friend.  Although I felt humiliated and very sad, I found forgiveness in my heart and did my best to put it behind me.  I did not want to confront my friend; I did not want to discuss it or revisit it; the whole thing was just too sad and painful.
But over a two year period, the friend kept bringing it up, in different ways, some subtle, and some direct.  The last time the topic came up, I actually believed that my friend honestly and sincerely wanted me to answer questions about the whole ordeal.    This time, I did not change the subject, leave, or avoid it.  I felt "well... let's get it over with..." 
We had a conversation.

I answered the first question.  Then, I answered the second question.  As I started to answer the third question,  the friend angrily interrupted:  "Well what about you?   You did X and Y!"   So instead of answering sincere and honest questions, I was attacked.  Any time I tried to answer one of the now, presumably rhetorical questions,  I got a "whataboutism",  an interruption,  or an attack.  This continued for about 45 minutes. Actually I did not need to be there as I had little opportunity to provide any answers.  It was not a conversation, but more of a very angry tongue lashing.
By this time in the "conversation",  I started to disassociate.  I felt light-headed.  I lost track of where I was.  I was confused.  I find it extremely difficult to talk while feeling deep emotions, and humiliation and betrayal are very deep feelings.
This conversation felt very unfair.  In my experience, as a manager, when you want to know or learn something from a person, you ask a question and then you shut up.  You let the person answering take as long as they need to answer, and you never, ever interrupt.  You wait a while after they have finished to make certain they have finished answering.  Only then do you ask your next question.
That was not happening in this situation.  
One thing I did learn from my friend is that I had been making hurtful comments to her every time we had been together. She provided an example. 

Over the next few days I reflected on the accusation that I had made hurtful remarks.  I had been extremely angry about the betrayal, but, could not discuss the source of that anger with her for business reasons.  So I figured that yes, even though I was attempting to keep a lid on my unexpressed anger, it was likely coming out as hurtful remarks. 
I took responsibility for my behavior.  I hand-wrote an apology on a nice card and mailed it to my friend: 
During our visit, a week ago Friday, you told me that I had been belittling you, making little digs, and putting you down.  I was unaware that I had been doing this, so I am glad that you brought it to my attention.  I should not have done that.  I am truly sorry for my behavior; it was deplorable.  You deserve to be treated with respect.   Please accept my sincere apology.
A couple of weeks later, the friend sent me an email accepting my apology.  I was grateful that my apology was acknowledged and accepted.  I have not said an unkind word to my friend since then.  

However, there was still the problem of everything else that happened during the verbal tongue lashing that had masqueraded as an honest, sincere conversation.  The conversation had turned into a metaphorical conflagration that only answered some questions, resolved nothing, and made matters worse.  I started thinking about how I could communicate everything that happened,  how I felt about it, without getting interrupted or attacked.
My solution was to write a full accounting of all the events.  Answer all the questions that had, and had not, been asked during the conversation / angry tongue lashing. Share my feelings about the events.
The April 2021 blog post "Why I don't believe you" answers all the questions.  That is why I wrote it;  to finally and completely disclose everything.  Blog posts cannot be interrupted.  They cannot be shouted down.  
There is nothing left for me to state on this topic.  Finally, I am putting it behind me.



Friday, September 24, 2021

A very enjoyable root canal

"You need a root canal, hon," the pretty endodontist announced as she studied the cat scan image of my head.  

 "Okay.  Let's do it.  I don't want to think, worry, or fret about it.  Let's get it done." I replied, anticipating an end to the pain in the swollen gland under my jaw.  

 Two days later, I showed up,  with the benefit of a Halcion pill I ingested an hour earlier.

I have never had a root canal, but I knew the horror stories of agony and pain.   

Everyone in the endodontist office was a "Person of Color".  Interesting.  The new America.  I adjusted my ear buds to listen to the deep calm meditation audio files and prepared to endure whatever might happen in the next hour.

What a surprise!

The pretty endodontist and the dental technician smoothly executed the procedure -- as if they had done it so many times before, they could do it blindfolded.  I felt reassured.  

Then the banter started.  Fascinating banter that caused me to turn off the iPhone meditation tracks and listen to them.  

They discussed the Russian pop music scene, the Cuban music scene, the Afro-Cuban music scene, and the best living in South America.  Apparently, the country of Columbia offers the best work/life balance. I had a lot of questions, but with a mouth crammed with dental apparatus, impossible to ask anything.

The electric motors from the dental equipment reverberated in my ears.  Normally I hate that and tense up and feel miserable.  Thanks to Halcion, I did not care.  The building could start on fire and I would not care.  

Then it was over.

I took over the counter anti-inflammatories and pain killers for two days.  Then the pain was over.

My tooth is saved.  I have new musical interests to explore.  I want to travel to Columbia.  I feel enlightened. 

Thank you Dr. Niyati Patel.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Why I Don't Believe You

This is an essay about the end of a friendship.

Note that the character "Carleton" is an employee of the author, and also the son of the author's friend "Jill".

In October of 2018, I was in my office standing next to one of my employees, Carleton, waiting for a third person to get off the phone and join us in a meeting.  I casually asked Carleton what his plans were for Thanksgiving.  I knew that he usually spent the day with his father and his father’s family.   Carleton looked me in the eye and in a very matter-of-fact voice, told me that he and his brother were going to have lunch with his father, the day after Thanksgiving at a specific time at a specific restaurant! 

I said "that sounds pleasant." As we continued to wait, in silence, I inquired if he had a plan for Thanksgiving Day?   Suddenly Carleton got very uncomfortable.  He looked at his feet.  He shifted his position to take a step back.  Then he said very quietly “my brother and I are going on a hike”. I said “oh should be a great day for a hike.”  Then the third person got off the phone, joined us and we started our meeting.

I did not give this very brief discussion with Carleton any additional  thought,  except to note that I had inadvertently made him extremely uncomfortable.  I felt that he was concealing something from me, but, his private life is his business; I did not think about it again.

A few days later, I walked over to Carleton's cubicle, to ask him a question. However he was not there.   I happened to notice,  though, a document on his desk that said “Thanksgiving Day” and listed his mother Jill, his brother, Dylan, and himself.  It was some kind of hiking itinerary for the entire day.

I found this rather puzzling, because Jill had accepted my invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. Jill had not informed me of any change in her plans.

I wondered what was going on.  

Although there might have been many explanations,  the most logical one seemed to be that Jill and Carleton and Dylan were planning on spending Thanksgiving day together.

So why was I not informed of this change of plans?  I thought perhaps there was a discussion about hiking, but no definite settled plan.  So perhaps Jill still planned to attend Thanksgiving dinner. 

I found myself in an uncomfortable situation. I did not want to ask Jill what was going on as I did not want to put my employee Carleton in an awkward position with his mother.  

I trusted that within the next two weeks Jill would clarify for me that she was not coming,  or she was coming, or she would be late, or she would explain in some way exactly what was going on.

From that day in October up until Thanksgiving Day,  Jill and I went on a few walks and the topic did not come up.

I found the situation rather stressful, because if Jill did not plan to attend, there were others I could invite. But, Jill had accepted the invitation,  so I had to trust that she would keep her word. 

About two weeks before Thanksgiving, I discussed the situation with  a friend who does not know (and would never know) any of the parties involved.  I explained my concerns. The friend said,  “well why don't you invite the two young men along with Jill to Thanksgiving dinner. You know, the more the merrier.”  

I thought that might be a good solution to the problem, so I sent a quick note to Jill and said “oh by the way if Carleton and Dylan are visiting you for Thanksgiving, they are welcome at my house for dinner.”  

Jill declined the invitation on their behalf. But she did not decline for herself, even though, I felt I had opened the door to make that easy.

And then it was Thanksgiving Day. My husband and I put a lot of energy and effort into the Thanksgiving dinner, as we always do. 

About ten minutes before the dinner began I received a text message from Jill stating that she wasn't feeling well and would not be attending.  

The other guests noticed my distress.  I did my best to carry on, but it was a dark cloud on an otherwise lovely day.

Of course,  I did not believe that Jill was ill.  Jill was off hiking with her two sons.  I felt embarrassed and humiliated.  How could a close friend blow me off in this cruel way?  I had to face the facts:

  • Jill knew she was declining my Thanksgiving invitation for several weeks, but did not inform me.

  • Jill conspired with one of my employees to lie to me. The day that Carleton had been uncomfortable, looked at his feet, and stepped back, came into sharp focus;  Carleton had been told to lie to me about the true plans for Thanksgiving Day. Why else did my innocent question make him so uncomfortable?  And what kind of mother tells her son to lie to his employer?

  • I thought of several lovely people I could have invited to replace Jill.   I kicked myself for trusting someone who I thought was a close friend.

So, the adult children wanted to go on a hike on Thanksgiving Day and Jill blew me off in favor of her children.  While it is understandable to prefer your children, the courteous behavior is to advise the hostess of your changed plans, when you know them.

The  day after Thanksgiving, I received a text message from Jill asking if I had received her text the previous day, about not showing up on Thanksgiving Day due to illness.   

I replied that yes I had received it.  

She responded “Oh I'm so relieved”.  

I found myself thinking “why are you relieved?”  Did Jill believe that we were holding up Thanksgiving dinner, waiting for her to arrive, and that if we had not received her text, then we would have been waiting hours for her to show up while the dinner got cold?  

Somehow in her mind, texting regrets on the day of a major social occasion is sufficient to excuse one's behavior.  I wonder where this belief comes from?

For the next several months I was very angry about the whole situation. But there was not a lot I could do in order not to jeopardize my business relationship with my employee, Carleton.  I could not confront Jill as I could not reveal the source of my information.

Due to Jill's egregious behavior, my relationship with her grew strained.  It took about six months and then I got over it.  Little did I know that the situation would become far worse.

In the Spring of 2019,  my husband and I had our annual spring dinner called Oy!ster.   I was writing and revising  a play for the event and I was very excited about having the guests participate in the play. This was probably the only time when I could have a staged reading of my play. I had even told a well-known local actor and his playwright wife,  that I was going to have a staged reading about my play. They loved the concept of Pharaoh’s crisis in leadership; they were really supportive and enthusiastic.   I ordered masks for the plagues and had stage direction and other props.  It was going to be splendid!  And I was sure everyone would have a great time.

I had made some mistakes on the invitation -- left some people out and screwed up some other email addresses.  Jill, was accidentally left off the invitation. 

Jill took great umbrage at this, and gave me a piece of her mind.  I was shocked.  One does not normally assume they are entitled to an invitation. 

Jill went through the list of people who were invited and commented on their relative merit for receiving an invitation. My guest list was none of her business! 

Over the next week, Jill contacted me more than once to let me know that it was her son Dylan's birthday on the day of Oy!ster.   She had apparently made plans with him. Well, I thought,  that was too bad, and I hoped they had a nice birthday party.  

But for some reason Jill felt the event should be reorganized around her requirements. Jill said she could delay Dylan's birthday party, come to our event, and then leave early. But this would not work at all, because we were going to start the play after everyone arrived, and it would not work to have someone leave in the middle or near the end of the play. It would be disruptive. It would spoil the play. The play was really important to me.

For a while, I thought Jill might be on drugs. Who would be so arrogant as to think that someone else would or should plan a party around their requirements?   You receive an invitation -- promptly accept (and show up) or decline.  You do not badger the hostess; the person who kindly extended the invitation. 

But Jill doubled down; she wanted to negotiate the terms and conditions of the invitation. She wanted it to be a party that she and I  “co-hosted”; I was not interested. 

But then Jill doubled down again. She said okay; she would come for the beginning of the party and stay till the end.   

But this was not a credible statement, given that she had blown me off before to accommodate the whims of her adult children.

Was Jill really going to abide by the rules of etiquette and the conditions of the party? No I don't think so. 

Jill had previously gone to great lengths for her adult children -- conspiring with them to lie to their employer -- all to accommodate her needs and wishes.

The other extremely mysterious thing about this turn of events was why was Jill so committed and so adamant and so determined to attend Oy!ster and so committed and so adamant and so determined not to attend Thanksgiving?   

So no.  No way a kid’s birthday party was going to interfere with my play.  Regardless of what she said, Jill was going to interrupt the play to get home to her son’s birthday party. 

So where do we go from here?   

The first edition of Emily Post's Etiquette was published in 1922.  It is widely accepted as the official guideline for social behavior in America.  Page 100 and 101 describe the manner of accepting invitations.   There is no excuse for accepting an invitation and not advising the hostess that your plans have changed. You deprive the hostess of the opportunity to select another guest for her event. 

And, there is no excuse at all for conspiring to deceive. 

In the final analysis, etiquette is about a sensitive awareness of the needs of others—sincerity and good intentions are primary.

Then there is the problem of enmeshment.  Jill is not respecting boundaries regarding social occasions. If Jill is not the hostess of a party, then she has no say whatsoever about the guest list or activities. Jill is free to have her own party, her own way. A guest may either accept or decline an invitation, and that is all.  

Recently I have learned that Jill has recounted experiences unique to me as if they were her own.   It seems that Jill has become "enmeshed", not really understanding where the boundaries are.

I need to separate from Jill.  The Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote: 

"...keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best." 

For me, that is not Jill.