Wednesday, November 02, 2022

A relationship based on a lie

In my early 30's, I lived overseas, but eventually returned to the United States.  I wanted to settle down.  I wanted to buy a house.  I wanted to get a serious job.  

After a six week job search,  I joined an up-and-coming tech company with lots of really sharp, motivated people.  It was exhilirating; I was pumped.

For my first major assignment, I worked with an application engineer, promoting a particular technology to a particular group of customers.  The application engineer gave technical talks and I handled the business and contracting issues. Working together, we were very successful.

However, there was a downside to this for me.  The app engineer assumed that in any given situation, I had not done my research or my homework and any statements I made were untrustworthy.   Occasionally, she made critical or disparaging remarks.

I found this deeply insulting and hurtful, particularly because it was not true.  I am the kind of person who always does my homework, completes my assignments, and when I speak I have facts and evidence that support my position.

However, I did not try to address this objectionable behavior with the app engineer.  I was worried that she would complain about me to her boss, then it would be passed along to my boss, and my next annual review would state that I "could not get along with people". The company had a culture of toxic gossip and I really needed the job and the paycheck.

So I sucked it up.  I said nothing.  I felt angry and resentful, but I put a lid on it.

Business situations required the app engineer and I travel together to see customers.  On these trips, we discussed many non-work topics.  The app engineer realized I did not know anyone in the area.  The app engineer and her husband had a lot of social connections.  They invited me to various parties.  I was grateful for the invitations. 

Finally, there was an opportunity for a transfer inside the company and I jumped at it.  The new position had challenges, but at least I was not subject to critical and disparaging remarks. 

I continued to accept social invitations from the app engineer and her husband.  Slowly, but surely, I developed a friendship network of my own, apart from the app engineer and my employment.  

I stayed in touch with the app engineer.  In my new position, I would sometimes deal with challenging human resource situations;  I would contact the app engineer to get her take on the situation.  She frequently had good input and good advice.  Unfortunately, it would be delivered with a condescending tone and attitude.

This was happening at a time when the word "mentor" did not exist.  There were plenty of men in the business world who did not welcome women.  Rather, we were told we should be assuming our God-given role of bearing and raising children.  So, no chance that these men with valuable business experience would ever help or share any insights into addressing business issues.  One had to make do with what was available, even if it meant suffering humiliation.

To avoid the humiliation, I would do my best to figure things out myself, but sometimes you just needed another opinion.  My relationship with the app engineer continued along these lines with occasional social interactions.

One day,  I realized I had enough of this.  The app engineer, another female friend, and I were ordering lunch at a restaurant.  I asked the waiter if I could have my sandwich with whole wheat bread (instead of white) as I was trying to improve my diet.  The app engineer flew into a rage and started yelling at me about the difference between whole wheat and wheat berries and how I didn't know what I was talking about. I think everyone at the restaurant heard this diatribe.  I was shocked, in fact I felt a very unpleasant tingle going through my whole body.  I said nothing for the rest of the lunch. I was not going to be treated this way again.  

So going forward, I declined invitations with the app engineer.  After about six months, the app engineer contacted me and demanded to know why I was avoiding her.  So, I told her that I was fed up with her  insulting and disparaging remarks.  I explained it was obvious that she did not respect me, because if she did, she would not treat me this way.  So I was doing us both a favor and letting her off the hook;  I did not want her to feel obligated to have a friendship with an idiot.  No need for her to do that; I hoped she would spend more time with the people she respected. 

The app engineer professed shock and insisted that she did respect me.  I laughed.  I brought up circumstances and situations where she had humiliated me.  A couple of days later she asked me if I would consider resuming our friendship if she stopped making disparaging remarks.  I laughed and said of course, but again, if she had any respect for me, she would not have done this in the first place.  

So reluctantly, I  resumed the friendship.  For about six months, there were no condescending remarks or insults.  But then it started up again.  

At this point, we had almost nothing in common.  The app engineer had retired very early; I was still involved in the tech world. The app engineer travelled extensively; I did not.  The app engineer was very involved with her grandchild; I was not interested.  The app engineer did a lot of volunteer work; I tried volunteer work, but did not like it, and was not interested.

So with no common interests, I thought our association would just gradually fade away.  It did not.  For some reason, it was very important to the app engineer to stay in touch with me and to  participate in activities together.  I thought I could handle this once or twice a year.  

Recently the app engineer contacted me to get together for my birthday.  She had a birthday card, a gift, and wanted to take me to dinner.  

When the app engineer arrived, we took a walk by the ocean.  Then we returned to my house, where my husband joined us, and the app engineer started in on the little micro insults.  

I do not recall how this unimportant topic came up, but my husband and I  had recently given away a large television and modern glass tv stand.  We listed the items as "no charge" on Craigslist.  The app engineer explained that was not the right way to go about it; the app engineer always uses Freecycle, not Craigslist.  The app engineer explained that the best method is to wait for responses to the ad where the respondent explains how and why they would like the item.  Those are the people most likely to show up and claim the item.

There was a moment of silence.  

No one asked the app engineer for her opinion.  Not only did we get her opinion, but the implication was that we had gone about this incorrectly.  We were being scolded and corrected.  From our point view, this was ludicrous.  Who cares?  The stuff was gone.   The conversation moved along in another direction.  

That was a mistake.

Rather than move on, we might have asked the app engineer why she was providing this advice.  We might have gently pointed out that the items were gone, so we considered the matter closed.

The advantage of asking such a question would be to get the app engineer to reflect on her own motivations for this line of discourse.  Perhaps the app engineer would  realize that she was being bossy, superior, dictatorial, and slightly righteous.  All of these are undesirable qualities -- most assuredly unwelcomed by her audience.  

Or perhaps she would have told us that we obviously did not know the correct method for giving away household items we no longer wanted, and therefore, she needed to explain it to us. 

This could have opened up a deeper conversation about the many many interactions with the app engineer that revealed a bossy, superior, dictatorial and slightly righteous attitude towards other people. 

So why did we fail to open the conversation into something more meaningful?  

After years and years of tolerating this demeaning and abusive behavior, I have become desensitized to it.  I no longer have a strong negative reaction I have to suppress.  Instead, after being around the app engineer for a few hours, I feel annoyed; the same kind of feeling you get when there's a fly or mosquito buzzing around you for a few hours, and you can't quite manage to smack it with the fly swatter, but you are really sick of it.  Then finally you open a door or a window and watch the annoyance fly away.   

Am I responsible for this sorry state of affairs?  Partially.  This is a relationship based on a lie.  The lie is that it is okay to abuse me.  Unfortunately, the bad behavior is set.  Maybe it could have been a good relationship if I had set boundaries in the beginning.  But, over fear for my job, I did not set boundaries, and now the bad behaviors are repeated over and over again.

I believe, deep down, the app engineer is a kind and loving person.  For some reason her interaction style with other people is bossy, superior, dictatorial and slightly righteous.  Most people do not want someone like that in their lives.  I feel sorry for the app engineer.



Saturday, March 19, 2022

Respecting servers in restaurants

My friend Sara is allergic to peppers.  

This means bell peppers, ancho chiles, pepperoncini, banana peppers, piquillos, poblanos, Cuban peppers, Anaheim, pasilla, jalapenos, Fresno, Serrano, cayenne, Habanero, and so on.

When Sara orders at a restaurant, she informs the server of her allergy, and asks if specific items on the menu contain these ingredients.  

The trouble is ... it is never a simple interaction.  

Sara raises her voice, enunciating very precisely, carefully, and loudly, that she is allergic to peppers.  She then elaborates by reciting a list of the types of peppers.  Then she dramatically pauses, and adds "but not black pepper" waving her hands to gesture that black pepper is okay. This goes on for three to five minutes, as some parts of it are repeated.

Sara delivers her speech in a way to suggest that the server does not comprehend spoken English, and/or suffers from a mental defect.

Sometimes the server is knowledgeable about the ingredients of the particular menu item, and sometimes the server has to go away to check.  Once in a while, the server is rattled.  On one occasion, I ordered a salad that was supposed to contain strips of julienne red bell pepper, but the salad arrived pepper-less.  The server possibly thought that Sara's eschewing of peppers included everyone in the party, and not just Sara.  

On all of these occasions, I have felt embarrassed.  To me, this manner of communication insults and humiliates the server.  I believe Sara intends to be clear, not insulting.  I try to leave a larger tip as my way of apologizing for Sara's behavior.  I don't know if that is enough.  Having been a server myself in my early 20's, I know that after serving someone like Sara -- someone who demeaned and humiliated me -- I would have gone home and cried and cried.

So why does Sara communicate in this way? 

Possibly in the past, Sara consumed a restaurant entree containing some type of pepper, suffered a strong allergic reaction, became seriously ill, and was hospitalized.  But if that were the case, Sara could review the restaurant menu online, in advance, see the ingredients, and then phone the restaurant to confirm the ingredient list.  No need to wait until seated at the restaurant to interrogate the server.  Or, Sara could prepare some 3x5 cards with a list of her pepper allergies and hand it to the server, so the server could review it, or take it to the chef to inquire.

Another possibility is that Sara believes all servers are mentally defective.   

However, let's consider that about 40% of servers have bachelor's degrees and another 15% have associate's degrees.(Note 1)  So roughly 55% of servers have advanced degrees.  The probability that your server is reasonably intelligent is likely.  

Having known Sara for a long time, I know that Sara has a rigid value system that is something like this:

  • Purpose of Education:  Obtain a high paying job
  • Best way to get a high paying job:  Degree in computer science
  • Therefore, proof of intelligence:  Degree in computer science
Sara is entitled to her own value system. 
I have a different value system:
  • Purpose of Education:  Knowledge for the sake of knowledge; to be an educated human being
  • Best way to get a high paying job:  Not a priority; not part of the value system
  • Proof of intelligence:  Ability to think and write critically

I believe what happens in these very unpleasant restaurant interactions, is that Sara applies her value system like this:

  • This server earns less money than me, therefore the server must be stupid, because the purpose of work is to earn as much money as possible.  
  • The smartest people in the world earn the most money.  
  • If someone goes to college, they would study the subject that got them the highest paying job.  So even if the server is a college graduate, they were stupid not to study something that would get them a high paying job.  
  • A degree in computer science is more difficult to achieve than a degree in history, religion, economics, biology, chemistry, art, drama, etc.  Therefore, I am more intelligent than anyone who studied the other subjects.  
  • It is not possible that a person wanted to become educated; of course they wanted job training. 
  • It is not possible that a person could have studied computer science, but consciously chose to study something else, even if the other field of study did not offer the same job skills/earning potential.

So what can I do about this conflict with Sara?  

I do not want to dine in a restaurant with someone who mistreats and abuses the server, even if that was not the intention.  I do not want to be complicit in or support this behavior.

I appreciate that each of us has our own values.    I do not like the idea that someone's values serve as a  weapon to abuse others. 

My affinity is with the servers, and I will have to decline restaurant invitations with Sara.


(Note 1)  Research from Zippia (an employment research firm) indicates that in the United States, about 40% of servers have bachelor's degrees.  See: