Kids can be mean

But that’s terrible!’

By yesterday evening I realized I’d said these words 4 times this week in response to completely different stories about bad things happening to other people.

Each was a workplace war story.

In one case a friend’s husband lost his job in the first wave of the recession. He’d worked for a US transport company for 15 years. Everyone at the company knew that people would lose their jobs. But one senior person, instead of accepting he’d have to let people go and give those that were entitled some sort of compensation package, worked out how many of his staff he might be able to force into quitting. By making their life hell.

The friend confessed that she tried to convince her husband to quit several months into this regime …because she lay awake at night wondering if he was going to have a heart attack.

But he stood his ground, hit his impossible targets, eventually got made redundant and used the money to pursue his dream of running his own business.

The endings to the 3 other stories I heard were far less satisfying and involved everything from deeply immature managers to heads of HR with personal vendettas.

“But that’s terrible!” I’d say.

And then the following thought would enter my head: I am going to find out who these people are that ruin other people’s lives and I am going to write to them!!

Yes, well — it was a fleeting thought each time. A more lingering thought involved something my mother used to say about school playground crimes  “Well, kids can be mean.” And that’s the subject of this weekend’s blog — how it is that experiences we had in school can follow us around for the rests of our lives — and most especially into the workplace.



Filed under Identity, Work

5 responses to “Kids can be mean

  1. Much of my mean school experiences form a big part of this GBA special:

    In hindsight though I return to a realisation that my podcast project cemented for me:

    “We’re all just humanbeings trying to get through life in whatever way we can.” And I try and remember that every mean person in school had their own mazes to try and find there way out of. I try and have compassion for them and an understanding in my own part in the meanness. Most of the time I’m able to do it, although sometimes you just have to open up the rant vents and allow all the pain and resentment to splurge out.

  2. Feargal

    The problem often is that those committing these ‘crimes’ are not even aware of it. It is our duty to point out to them the impact their choices are having on us. Then we can rant when they chose to railroad us anyway….n’est pas?

    • nathaliehourihan

      I agree …. I am not really speaking of those sorts of crimes — where people are people and blind to the affect they have on others. These I relate to, struggle with, sometimes am too magnanimous about and sometimes am too sensitive about.

      I am talking about proper meanies.

      Yes, they too may have no clear understanding of their affect on others …maybe … but the intent is quite different from inadvertent normal human insensitivity — mean-spirited people are making a power play. As Dave suggested (and I think you;ve always been on a similar wavelength), it is a sad situation for the meanie themselves (what goes around and all that)

      I do think you are mostly right — lots of times we really do have to be grown-up’s about it before we can be sure which sort of meanie we have on our hands. Just insensitive? Just selfish? Or actually, one screwed-up person who has to feel make themselves better by stepping on other people. But I’d argue sometimes it is perfectly obvious and engaging with a jerk will get you no-where. These are the situations that are quite hard to grapple with

      I think it’s interesting what Dave says about reasoning with bullies. I don’t really know what I would do. If I suffered any bullying it was subtle and nothing that put me in a terrible situation. If anything I think I did a very good job of “opting out” so that I could spare myself all that. I just stayed separate. Kept my own circles of friends that often had nothing to do with school (or at least my year in school.) I did that at college too. And kept my social life separate which is a pretty extreme thing to do in college (though it helped I didn’t live on campus and lived in a town where I had gangs of friends from childhood) But this isn’t possible for lots of people — there were circumstances that made this strategy work (eg living in a City in the US, and living off-campus in college )

  3. Catherine

    Dave – I admire your maturity. My own approach is to pretend that my life started when I went to University, where everyone was much less mean.

  4. Hi Feargal,

    Personally I think that spending my school years trying to point out to the unaware the effects that they were having on me just made me more of a target and didn’t help anyone. Certainly not me. I did once try and write a piece on being bullied for the school magazine but they wouldn’t publish it as they feared it would make me more of a target. I felt it would at least give people the opportunity to make informed choices about their behaviour.

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