By the time I was 12 I had been called a nigger 1000 times and had my ass kicked by almost every kid in my neighborhood. It’s what came with being the only black boy in a mid/lower class Ohio suburb in the 70s. Fast forward 30 years, the same kids who “bullied” me are my best friends. Looking back on it I don’t think they bullied me necessarily because I was black. I think they bullied me because I was a wimp and I didn’t stand up for myself.
Hopefully, you can see my point already. We all need to stop being wimps. Stop being so sensitive. Stop expecting everything to be fair. And for God sakes please stop expecting everyone to be appropriate!! Thinking that this world of broken, insecure people are going to be a place of equality, compassion and respect is delusional. Instead, let’s just decide to communicate our wishes and boundaries clearly, decisively, without double standards and without all of the freakin’ whining.
At the ABC Company, we’re like a family. Unless you’re actually related to your coworkers, you’re NOT a family. You have beer on tap, the dress is casual, you occasionally hug each other. All the camaraderie in the world will not stop the fact that if you hit on Chelsea one too many times the family will bounce your ass like the poor bastard you are.
So, what’s the problem? Seems clear cut. Well, Chelsea would never go out with you BUT, she likes the attention. You took this to mean, “So, you’re saying there’s a chance?” Like a dummy, you crossed the line from “hitting on” to “propositioning.” As the words left your mouth you felt a pit in your stomach. Chelsea’s face changed from mild amusement to disgust. At 4:50 pm you’re asked into the bosses office and HR is there. Now you’re an orphan without a “family.”
Serves you right? You’re at work stupid. Don’t try to lay your coworkers. As you ride home with your box of desk trinkets clanging together, you try to rationalize it. You got sucked into Chelsea’s Instagram barrage of great booty shots from the gym, the beach, the club, even the freaking grocery store. And then there’s the videos of her squatting that make your head feel like it’s going to pop. The problem is, you can’t even allude to noticing Chelsea’s butt AT WORK. That’s harassment and you’ll lose your job.
Let’s talk about damage here. Who’s to say how deeply affected Chelsea was when you expressed your desire for an encounter with her perfect posterior. It didn’t seem to bother her that ONLINE dozens of guys make blatantly sexual comments complete with eggplant emojis. Why couldn’t she just shut you down to your face? “Ok, look, Andy, I like you as a friend but, don’t talk to me like that again or we’re gonna have a problem. Got it?” Most HR rule books frown on direct confrontation. However, REAL families are built around it.
It’s a fact that people at work often date each other. Courtship happens in the office. Hookups happen. Marriage happens. Affairs happen. The workplace is not the set of the children’s show Barney. If you got out a CSI blue light and went around your office you would be afraid to set your coffee on most flat surfaces. HR policies should either include some gray areas or segregate boys on one side and girls on the other.
Casual and Too Casual
Back in the day you put on your dress or slacks and your skinny tie and you went to work at a very bland, no-frills office. No ping pong or scooters, beer on tap or chill out spots. Your boss didn’t call you “Bro.” You called him Mr. Wilson and he didn’t give a crap about you and you knew it. You were obviously at work. Now, we wear our jeans with holes and get all cozy with each other over beer and games. We take retreats and bond. Trust falls anyone?
A casual work culture can make some of us let down our guard. We forget where we are and who we’re with. For most people, the fact that the day is consumed with work tasks is enough to help them focus. For folks like me who bounce from doing work to play to distraction back to work, I might be better off in slacks and a tie at an uncomfortable desk with Mr. Wilson glaring at me.
The Filter Problem – Unfiltereds
There are people who just can’t watch their mouths. They say whatever comes to mind. In my family, this would be both grandparents on my father’s side, both of my parents, me and my youngest son and daughter. We say what we think when we think it. For us, school, the workplace, social settings can turn awkward in an instant when we blurt something out followed by, “What? What did I say wrong?!”
“Jim, I printed the proposal for you. What did you think?” Jim responds, “It was really long. Probably too long.” If you’ve seen more than three episodes of the Office you should have the words, “That’s what she said!” Bouncing around your skull. Normal people just think it. Unfiltereds blurt it out triumphantly. Unfiltereds are better off being standup comedians, bartenders, or mouthy wide receivers. Corporate America is like being trapped in a minefield. It’s only a matter of time before they misstep and blow themselves up.
Am I saying that all of the sexual harassment fodder in the media is bullshit? I suspect some of it might be. It seems like bullshit because women sit on these horrible encounters for years and years then shout it from the rooftops like it happened yesterday. I understand that in the moment women may keep quiet out of fear of retribution. I just hoped that as the “harassment” was happening, they leaned in close to their assailant and said, “Don’t EVER speak to me like that again. Whatever you hope will happen, is NEVER happening.”
My Harassment Adventures
I’ve been hit on by both males and females at work. I had a gay client descriptively offer to be my “first.” I had a male boss once address me as “gorgeous,” in front of the whole department. I worked for a woman who repeatedly dragged me out of town and kept trying to get me drunk. At a different job, I completed a very successful project and my boss promised a large bonus. I was in his office discussing my bonus and balked at his offer of a raise instead. He angrily responded, “This is a $10,000 raise!! You should be sucking my dick!!” All inappropriate right? Not what you should have to deal with in the workplace.
In each case, I squashed each situation on the spot. To my gay client, I said, “I will NEVER be gay so drop it.” To my boss, “Don’t call me gorgeous AGAIN – or anything even close. You got me?” And about the bonus, “What the fuck did you just say to me? I’ll punch you in your face if you talk to me like that!” And what happened? I received three sincere apologies and NO problems after that. I admit, my responses won’t make it in the pages of any HR manual. But, standing my ground worked. Remember how I got my ass kicked as a kid. I let myself continue to be a victim.
People do and say dumb things. It doesn’t mean we are without responsibility for our actions. Sometimes we need the chance to be corrected and learn from our mistakes. I’ve said and done some stupid things at work. I appreciated when a coworker calls me on it and gives me a chance to grow. It’s better to work with people who you know will be straight up with you and even help you stay in line – especially if you lack tact, have a dirty mind or just have no filter.
It does suck that men in power in the workplace choose to exert their power over women to get themselves off. It’s also equally sucky that women sleep their way to the top. Some guys at the office spew dirty jokes and innuendo like they’re at a bar with their buddies. And some folks are way too uptight or act like their flower petal-soft moral beliefs are being assaulted constantly. Yea, I’m talking about you, religious folks! It’s all about power. The offended and the offenders all want the power to make themselves the most important.
So, what’s the solution?
Stop being so sensitive.
Give up on the FAMILY rhetoric and get back to being a workplace.
Allow or EXPECT people to handle things themselves like adults.
Set a time limit on “complaints.” 12 months.
Can we allow or even expect adults to be adults and handle inappropriate situations directly? Or, will we continue down a path that makes the workplace a haven for oversensitivity? Should we wear name tags or bracelets that remind others of our tolerance levels?
Whatever the solution, I’m sure Trump is with me on this.