Well, if I’m trying to climb back on the blogging wagon, so to speak, I suppose I could do a lot worse than talk about a meeting — maybe it would be more accurate to say ‘altercation’ — that I had on the job with an angry, unhappy woman. It happened over a week ago, and I find I just can’t quite get over it. I wonder why that is, and I wonder how I could do better next time.
I wonder if I have to go into much detail. I figure that by the time any of us have lived very long, particularly if we have had typical dayjobs, we acquire our own collection of sad stories. But here are the basics: I went to a board meeting as a consultant, and this woman — I’ll call her Arlene, since I don’t know anybody by that name — was a stranger to me. She stood up and at a completely inappropriate time in the meeting, utterly denounced the product that Greg and I make for the board as a waste of money. It was a complete shock to me, although it was obvious she had no idea who I was or why I would care. It would have been like a knife in my flesh if the board had seemed inclined to listen, since this client is one of our most important. But it was obvious that either because of past history or making a hash of her case, no one was taking her seriously. And so she didn’t advance her cause at all, and quite a few people came up to me immediately when the meeting adjourned for lunch to tell me not to worry.
I was trying not to worry, but I was shaken and thinking only of how much I needed to call Greg and tell him what happened. But then, Arlene was suddenly there in the parking lot next to me. She briefly introduced herself and then — unbelievably — tried to pressure me in private to agree with her that our product was unacceptable. She was standing too close and I was backed up against my car — definitely one of those ‘invading your space’ situations. She was talking too abruptly and much too directly, given that she wanted me to commit professional hara-kiri. If I’d been 20 years younger, I think I might have fallen apart and either lost my temper or been terrified and said something stupid.
But I’m not 20 years younger, and, sad to say, I’ve seen too many people like this. When I looked her straight in the eye, I saw a kind of wildness in her — boiling emotion, boiling need, even desperation for… what? Telling Greg about it later, I asked his opinion: What in the world had she hoped to accomplish by this ridiculous assault on me that was much too personal to be professional? What was the best thing that could have come out of it?
“Oh, that’s easy,” Greg said. “She could’ve made you cry.”
That’s the same conclusion that I came to. What makes people like this into people like this? Why would you use little business matters that are here today and gone tomorrow as blunt instruments to try to make a stranger — a grown woman — cry?
That’s the part I keep thinking about, because I don’t have a good answer. I think after the intervening days, I have sympathy because, as a church father said, “everyone you meet is fighting a terrible battle.” I’ll never know her battle. But sympathy isn’t enough.
I have pity, but there I’m reminded of another story of the fathers. The story goes that at a monastery, a visiting abbot saw one humble monk who was thoroughly maligned by his brothers and yet gave no reply. When the abbot asked him how he managed, he said, “They don’t bother me, Father. They are only barking dogs to me.” And the abbot was very saddened and told his companion that the monk not only hadn’t progressed far in the faith, but had fallen into error. Because people aren’t dogs, and just disregarding them in order to maintain equilibrium is understandable, but not virtuous.
I have a suspicion that what is missing in my makeup is a real detachment from personal attacks. And of course, that most troubling thing — love. It always seem to be in such short supply, and yet I’ve been loved so greatly.
So at the end, I’m in wonder at my own littleness and at the littleness of another. It’s been quite a lot to mull over.