"I got chewed out by a manager"
It’s much easier when it happens to others: preaching indifference in the face of humiliation by superiors.
With a mixture of concern and incomprehension one watches other people’s helpless rage – wondering why they cannot just shrug it off?
I remember S., not exactly a cry-baby, but close to tears when she spat out: “I got chewed out by a manager!”.
“Hey, it’s only work – this is not about you“, so I tried in vain to sooth her despair. After all, she only did this supermarket job to pay her bills, she lived for her days off when taking photographs (and very good ones too). Why on earth should she care about a chef de rayon criticizing her cheese-display? But she did.
In fact, few people are insouciant bohemians. Most people do care about doing their job properly. Not many people can draw upon enough autonomous self-confidence to do without recognition by others.
So being criticised stings – burning with the deep despair of not being good enough. And then, of course, to add insult to injury, there’s the denigrating tone of voice that so many bosses adopt when criticising underlings. Ah, the humiliation of being disrespected, the humiliation of having to shut up because one dare not speak up to one’s boss.
There you go – a recipe for dwindling self-esteem and helpless rage.
Last Friday, at work, I was on the receiving end of “the proud man’s contumely”(1) – it was well past 5PM, I was letting down my guard already, in blissful anticipation of the weekend. Until that bloody call conference - with its many “slings & arrows” of brute critique .
It did not take long before I was torn between despair (I’m worthless! I can do no good!) and rage (how dare he! After all my hard work! Darn arrogant twit!) – struggling to keep up a brisk business like tone (yes of course, thank you for comments, yes – we’ll adapt and send over again).
When I hung up I felt utterly defeated - it’s all in vain - never shall I fit in - why don’t I just quit. Walking back home through the dark, I could take no delight in the Friday night exaltation of the streets - not even the autumn breeze could lift my despondent spirits. Gravely I walked on, brooding and sighing.
"a book for me in the window"
The shop windows on the corner were still lit – it was open late tonight, this small but precious second hand bookshop. The man who runs it, always takes great care of his window display – building up themes around books, and every other day or so replacing and adding a few well chosen books.
So I always keenly scan the shop window – what new message would there be today from this benevolent intelligent spirit? (2)
Sometimes, my heart jumps: yes, that’s for me, a message specifically for me! And when I enter, I know this is where I want to be – a place filled with books, with jazz or classical music playing. With a friendly bespectacled man at a desk, who genuinely loves his books, and generously shares his wisdom with his shop visitors.
And, lo and behold – on this gloomy night a message shone out for me in the window display (3) – a typed quote attached to a book “Shelley – Ecrits de combat” (“Combative writings”):
The man of virtuous soul
commands not, nor obeys:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches, and obedience
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanized automaton.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I rushed into the shop, almost shouting “there’s a book for me in the window! ”
The shop keeper was engaged in an animated discussion with another visitor - a woman in a wheelchair, parked just in front of his desk. But they didn’t mind being interrupted, seeming quite unsurprised at this excitation for a book. Upon my explanations, the shopkeeper smiled "a liberating book, isn't it? " When he got the book out - the woman, too, curiously scanned the back cover – tiens, Shelley, an anarchist? And soon a conversation ensued about who knew what of the anarchist leanings of this romantic poet (4) .
When I left, I was accompanied by a heartfelt “bonne lecture!“.
It now had also become a “bonne promenade” back home, with a spring in my step, holding the book in my hands, cherishing it, every once in a while briefly stopping and leafing through it, reading a passage. Assuring myself that men indeed have souls. That work indeed is not all there is about oneself.
(1) Hamlet knew all about it, too:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
(2) The real bookshop is clearly distinguished from those media-supermarkets with their piles of best sellers shouting for attention. At the heart of the real bookshop is a real booklover who carefully selects the books on display – and as a passer-by, you cannot but halt and look with attention: pondering the books on display, connecting titles with themes, reflecting, thinking – engaging in a silent and stimulating conversation.
For instance: librairie La Borgne Agasse,
Rue Anoul 30, 1050 Ixelles
(3) It was actually in French. “Ecrits de combat”- A compilation of Shelley’s “seditious” writings by a French anarchist publishing house. I always found that quite touching: a certain French “engouement” for rebellious Anglo-Saxon culture – from British 19th C socialists, over American jazz to dark “noir” novels.