the circular runner

My Principled Stance Against a Schmuck at Work…

In humor, life, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized, writing on January 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

So there’s this person at work who bugs me, and by that, I do not mean that she kind of annoys me in a way, or a little bit, or kinda. I mean she gives me the shakes, full-on DT’s, the Bends, i.e., she makes me tense, extremely so. As a rule, I hate tension if it’s not self-induced, not that I like that either, but at least I’m used to it when I do it to myself. Maybe I’m doing it to myself in this case–it’s possible. but this person is not helping.

Now before the armchair psychologists/lovers of the Rom-Com among you start in on the tried and overused plot point that I am on course for a budding romance with this person, let me stop you there. This is another beast completely. This is instant and complete dislike.  Or is it?  OK, I know the answer to that question, but this is a story, so bear with me as I fill in the details.

First off, let me give this woman a name–not her real name, mind you. Let’s call her Cathy. I don’t love how that name looks on paper when it’s spelled with a C, so it works. Cathy is one of those people who somehow is maternal and repellent at same time. I say this because she works with kids. I’m sure they love her. She’s good at what she does. She looks out for the young people who come to her center, and I know there’s love there. But there’s a sternness to the love the kids get from her, and though some might be annoyed (I know I’d be a hater), there’s no doubting that they appreciate the sternness.

I’m re-reading this and I know I’m not capturing the situation or who Cathy is, so let me try again. Cathy is the director of a community center among four others that are overseen by my direct boss and her boss. But you wouldn’t know that at meetings because Cathy’s the one who’s always up front, talking, directing, writing things on the board. She started off a recent meeting by lighting incense and then telling us that she couldn’t touch the “medicine” because she was “carrying her womanly burden”–something like that. Hey, I’m not squeamish. If Cathy wants to start talking about her menstrual cycles, that’s fine. It’s natural. For me, the far more awful thing is the spiritual stuff. I hate the word inappropriate because it usually points to prudishness, but I don’t like the spirituality-stuff at the workplace when it’s forced on me–it seems a little…inappropriate. I actually take spirituality seriously, and I’m private about it. PDA, no problem. PDS (public displays of spirituality) and I start to blush.

Rightly or wrongly, and I might be wrong, I tend to distrust things done too easily. I don’t like when people are always talking about Mother Earth and lighting sage at every meeting because it seems like an act. Even if it comes from a sincere place, it seems like it’s being done as part of a demonstration of one’s holiness, or worse, as part of a lesson plan. It kind of reminds me of old Brady Bunch episodes, when the father stops Greg and helps him (and us) with an empowering and enlightening two minutes on whatever topic is at hand: be it the culture of surfing in Hawaii or some Native American ritual. It’s annoying because it doesn’t seem to come out of love for the thing at hand. If it were a Christian topic, it would be called holier-than-thou attitude. But use sage or quote the Buddha, and it’s cultural and to be respected. Well, I’m Catholic (read, troubled and questioning, yet believing) and I don’t like people quoting chapter and verse of scriptures, whether those scriptures be Christian or Buddhist or Hopi.

But religion/spirituality is tied to culture, and because the organization I work for is tied to community, Cathy feels justified bringing in her “womanly burden” and “medicine.” I’m not sure of it’s these accoutrements or just the fact that she’s not the boss and yet she’s always front and center at meetings that bothers me more. But before I decide, just like those late-night commercials say, Wait, there’s more.

Cathy’s spirituality is not limited to the sagebrush; she also is a fervent believer in the community organizing creed: community is collaboration and collaboration is community. Like most overly used phrases, the words get thrown around often without everyone knowing exactly what they mean. If I hate public displays of spirituality, I hate just as fervently the use of empty phrases. Once in a recent meeting, I asked my boss (not Cathy) what the word, “collaboration” meant. Her answer: “it’s…it’s when you collaborate.” And that was after a minute of thought.

With Cathy, collaboration means going to meetings and listening to her speak the dogma of collaboration peppered with Spanish and Native American words along the way. As I write this, I am reminded of the last person I disliked this much, and I realize that it was a nun I used to work for years ago at a Catholic high school. In both cases, there was this sense of orthodoxy that I felt was both overly restrictive and completely devoid of humor. It’s all seriousness with this kind of person. Am I a Gen X’er? Do I need to be ironic at times in order to be sane? Its possible. But then again, I tend to think that nothing in this world is all one thing, that I can be serious (respectful) and not always have to be serious (dour).

And so, with that, let me stop my plot to assassinate Cathy’s character and let me turn back on myself. I know that my difficulties with her have a lot to do with her, but nothing, dammnit to hell, not even my relationship with this person, is one-sided. I tend to say I dislike Cathy, but the truth is that, at least in part, I am troubled by her because I sense she doesn’t approve of what I do. I am a good teacher. I work well with the young men and women who come to my class. BUT I am not a community organizer and I work among community organizers. My way around this is that I view my wotk in the classroom as being just as meaningful as holding a picket. I am a teacher, and I feel it’s my calling (yes, I am using a religious word here) to help young people better themselves–people who can then turn around help their own communities. This is my view, and though most around me either get that or don’t but don’t care enough to question it, it hurts me that a colleague doesn’t seem to appreciate the position. Which is to say, after all of this, that it’s my problem and not Cathy’s. Which is also why she probably doesn’t give me a second thought whereas I spend a morning writing blog posts about her and her “womanly burden.”



  1. I can think of a lot of “womanly burdens” I would feel willing to share with coworkers but my menstrual cycle is certainly not one of them.


    And the type of “sharing” you report is also, to me, heard as a challenge. Like you, I hear this person saying “Look — I am more spiritual/whole/intunewithmyself/emotionally-healthy than you are.” It’s not a belief, or a philosophy, or a guiding force, it’s a way of being better than those around her.

    Maybe it comes from HER insecurity; maybe she worries that you don’t approve of what SHE does.

    Or maybe she’s just irritating.

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