The challenge Day 32, by Carlos Miceli: [Think of all the things that are not working in your life. That job you don’t like, that relationship that’s not working, those friends that annoy you. Now turn them all on you. Imagine that everything that’s not working in your life is your fault. How would you approach it? What would you work on to change your life to the state that you want it to be?]
I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The devil may wear Prada, but I am rather naked than gutless.
”Could you come into my office, now?”
I was abruptly disturbed from my daydreaming by the voice in the intercom speakers. It was the voice of my boss, an arrogant woman with a charisma of a black widow spider in heat.
I dragged myself out of the chair, out of the office room, out in the corridor and in front of the closed-door. My hands were shaking a bit and I hesitated to press the button under the name I hated – Ms. Agnes Halliwell, CEO. There was absolutely nothing “Agnes” about her. I knew her name meant “chaste or holy”. She talks about it every Christmas party when she has the speech of the year to the staff. And what about her surname – Halliwell? She was far away from a “well of holiness”. Ms Agnes Halliwell was a stinking puddle of envy, wrath and greed. Wonder what aspirations her parents had for her, did they feel touched by God to have a baby and how then could she grow up to become such a despicable person? She was a cold-hearted woman and most people I knew at work despised her. She degraded my colleague in front of the rest of us for no reason whatsoever than that she had the power to do it. I pulled myself together and pressed the button and the light showed green which meant I could enter.
“Sit” she said and pointed to a chair in front of her desk and signed that I be quiet. She was talking on the phone at the same time with someone else and was upset and angry.
“Now listen to me, I don’t care who did what to whom or if you just got the information five fucking minutes ago! You work for me and I am the one that feeds your disgusting little children. I want it fixed within the hour,” she ranted and I watched her walk back and forth in the room.
She was impeccably dressed; black tailor-made dress, white shirt, pearls in her ears, fantastic manicured French nails and high-heel black Manolo Blahnik shoes. A conspicuous woman, in deed, but she was made of stone. She never exercised compassion or kindness. I couldn’t remember if I had ever seen her smile. She was beautiful but such a pain in the ass. She hung up the phone, sat down and grabbed her bag and pulled up her lipstick and refreshed her lips with a flaming crimson colour.
“Take a look at this. I want to hear your opinion” she said and threw a pile of paper on the desk. I picked up the pile and started to read a business report. It was about a business deal about an acquisition that had its flaws but all in all it showed a good and sound business model that with some adjustments could be great.
“Time is money, you know. The deal is not happening so I want you to tell me whose fault it is. Whom am I going to hang for this poor execution?” she said and looked at me with a stone cold face. She wasn’t going to let me off the hook easily.
“Excuse me?” I said and couldn’t believe what I just heard.
“You heard me. Don’t play stupid. Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame?”
I have heard about her interrogations and pestering before but I haven’t been called into her office myself.
“Don’t stall. Give me an answer. Now.” she said and reached for her mobile phone that announced an incoming text message.
“What do you want from me? I don’t think it is only one person’s fault if something goes wrong” I said and wondered if she was going to eat me alive. I put down the papers on the desk and hoped that she was content with my answer. I looked at her and could tell that she wasn’t.
“Do you have an idea what it takes to run this business? Do you have at least some brain cells in there?” she hissed and pointed to my head. She made me feel like a squeezed lemon. I tried to look firmly into her eyes without yielding but I couldn’t. I gave way to her hard glance. I picked up the report again and started to look through it. There were some irregularities in the presentation, but they were minor and could be adjusted with some calculation wizardry.
“Why does everything have to revolve around fault and guilt?” I thought and looked at her again. I noticed that even if she was a beautiful woman, she had a sort of thin tight upper lip, which made it easy, with little imagination, to turn her into an old ragged witch with a wart on her nose. That picture almost made me smile and I felt for her at that moment. I saw a very lonely woman who assumed that to be powerful she had to use the tactics of coercion, to threaten with reprimands for anyone that opposed her or failed to carry out to her satisfaction. I filled up with unfamiliar self-assurance. She couldn’t make me inferior unless I let her. She was actually in need of anyone or me to give her power.
“I do have brain cells and they tell me you are making an unnecessary assumption. You look at business as fault and entitlement. But mistakes can be rectified and success is relative. ” I said and surprised myself that I managed to sound so calm. I looked straight at her and put down the pile of paper. She stood still and looked at me with the same stone cold face she had all along.
“Why does someone have to hang if the deal isn’t going to happen anyway?” I asked.
“Because as long as one or two persons are held responsible for a mistake or misfortune in our business, the rest of the team can go home with illusion of happiness and come back tomorrow and be better workers than they thought they could be the day before” she answered without hesitation and sat down.
“But that’s just scapegoat mechanism and isn’t sign of strong leadership. It’s just bullying. It’s scare tactics.” I said and anticipated her to start arguing. The intercom speaker crackled.
“Ms Halliwell, there’s a call on line two”
“Debby, what is it you don’t get? I’m in a meeting. Take a message and don’t disturb me”
“Yes, Ms Halliwell. I am sorry, Ms Halliwell”. The speaker crackled again when the nervous secretary hung up.
Well, it’s interesting to hear what you think leadership is all about. Now let me tell you what I think” she said and stood up and walked around her desk and stopped in front of me. She had a malicious smile on her face. At least it was as close to a smile she would have I thought and felt uneasy having her so close to me. I was certain she could smell my growing nervousness. I was her prey and she got ready for the kill.
“I don’t need people to like me. I need people to do as I say. I do business. I do it well. I make huge profits for the company. People get paid well. People are happy. But when things go wrong, and it always does. You’ve heard of Murphy’s law, haven’t you?”
“Good. Then you know that if anything can go wrong, it will. So when it does, people need to see that they aren’t the ones that caused it but someone else. Then people can continue to be happy. So they obey and do as I say. I am the one that have to make that call. Strong leadership is the necessity to send someone to be hanged and held accountable for mistakes so the show can go on” she said. I knew she was uncompromising but I didn’t thought that she could be like a piercing winter storm on the tundra. She was relentless.
“I think responsibility for one’s actions is important, but I can’t help but wonder how constructive ‘fault’ really is? At the end of the day, you are the one that is responsible for it all, for the company. So if someone fails, you fail. You think in terms of mistakes. What if the mistakes can be looked at as opportunities instead, opportunities to do better?” I said and watched her when she laughed out loud. It was a scornful laughter. I felt ridiculed but I decided to not yield into her bullying. She was pitiful.
“Oh dear Lord, you are one of those. Do you really believe in an idealistic world where you’re in service for the betterment of others? People only serve for the betterment of them selves” she said and an air of attentiveness flew over her. She sat down and watched me.
“There is a Chinese saying that says if you point a finger towards someone else, three point back to yourself” I answered after a while hoping she would get my metaphor.
“Oh is that so? All I have to say to that is only if you believe in mumbo jumbo like that.” she said and leaned back in her chair. She looked like this amused her; as if it has been a long time she had a hunt like this, a prey that actually gave her a fight. I felt as if I just was bit by a venomous spider and could only wait for the paralysis to kick in.
“Are you going to proclaim it’s my fault then?” I said and felt my courage disappear. It seemed I had nothing to gain by trying to resist her habitual accusations and blame games.
“Oh no, that would be too easy and no fun at all. No, my sweet Ms. Clueless, you are going to do the finger-pointing for me. You will step into my shoes.” she said and for the first time I saw her actually smile. My god, even her teeth were white, straight and immaculate. Her soul, however, was suppressed to the extent that it seemed totally absent. Then I felt a flood of tremendous force, a courage and strength I haven’t felt before. I stood up and straighten my back.
“No, I won’t. I will not point out a person to carry fault and blame alone so the rest of us can pretend everything is okay and fine. That’s your ball game. Not mine. When I walk out the door, I will never come back. And I feel for you, you know. You are one of the loneliest persons I have ever met. You carve your name in marble because you don’t know what a heart is. I will leave you with one thought to ponder, when you die, and you will, who will attend your funeral and from their heart say they miss you because you were such a loving and caring person. Who?”
I turned around and walked out the door. I was tempted to look back to have a last glimpse of her to see her reaction. But I didn’t. I knew she was knocked right out off her Manolo Blahnik shoes.
Fault turns easily in to a blame game. Human societies are founded upon myths of sacrifice, to hold a complex structure of power together, so we habitually oppose force upon another. As long as the receptive community accepts it, the balance of power is kept even if one side lose more than the other. It goes something like this: “If you do work for me and serve the needs of the greater group (like a workplace) I will protect you and what you produce”. The scapegoat mechanism is part of that power exchange. If something goes wrong, force of coercion is used to keep people on track and remain in power. Hence someone has to ‘pay’ and made into a scapegoat and held responsible for the misfortune, and that scapegoat will carry the fault alone and relieve the larger group from the burden.”
I read a wonderful short novel “They that leave Omelas”, by one of my favourite writers Ursula Le Guin, on which I took the inspiration for this prompt. In that she writes about an invisible child that has to suffer awful abandonment, isolation and cruelty for the sake of the village’s happiness. The inhabitants were aware of the child, but thought as long as that one child carried fault, guilt and blame they could continue to live in blissful ignorance. But there were a few people, who couldn’t bare the knowledge of placing guilt upon one single child, and left the village to never return. They chose to enter the uncomfortable but liberating realm of responsibility of one’s Self and one’s actions.
So I don’t think fault is constructive. Mistakes are lessons in disguise. Do I place blame and fault upon others? Yes, sometimes I do and on myself too. Because my narrow-mindedness makes me believe I see the whole story. But however I justify the fault, or what I believe I am right about, never makes me happy. It always leaves me aware of my ignorance. It takes a lot to have 360° vision but I work to have one. I believe that what might be one man’s vulnerable wilderness is another man’s theme park. Fault never tells the whole story. But if we change our view or at least have the courage to hear other versions of a story we might get a wider perspective.