Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sweet Snakes

I had this in drafts for a month now. This question, and picture, reminded me that I had to finish it. The post could have died out of boredom in drafts, and I wanted to bring it up.

IMAGE: Sweet Snakes. Are you sure that you can really tell who they are?, in Flickr.

A few months ago, while performing my usual "profile perv" routine for every living being in the same sim as me, it was frequent to read some copy-pasted texts that made me "facepalm" to say the least. (Note: Profiles can't actually be "perved" since they are public, and are meant to be read. Whatever you don't want that others read, don't write it there :-))

"What texts?," you may wonder.

One is an ASCII art of a little puppy with a text such as "Copy this in your profile if you're against animal cruelty", another is a full pick titled something like "Post this if you're against abuse," being the text I've found as follows (I've respected the original writing on purpose):

The 14 year old girl holding hands with her 3 year old son, the one you just called a slut... She was raped at the age of 11. The girl you just called fat...shes overdosing on diet pills. The girl you just called ugly... she spends hours putting makeup on hoping people will like her. The boy you just tripped... he is abused enough at home. See that man with the ugly scars... he fought for his country. That guy you just made fun of for crying... his mother is dying. Put this as your status if your against bullying. I bet 95 percent of you wont re-post this, but i'm sure the people with a heart and backbone will.

Moving, right?

Call me cynical if you wish, but those lines above are prefabricated lines that are good for nothing except to feel good about ourselves. Don't get me wrong here. The cases described are for sure situations that we should avoid, but the stories are so easy to think of, that none of us would give a deeper thought about what could constitute abuse after reading that text, and that defeats the point of raising awareness against abuse.

Not to mention that, of course, copying that text sure proves that I am quite of a compassionate and understanding person, specially about abuse cases. Personally, if I was being abused, I would feel that text as an insult, to both my situation and my intelligence. The only you prove when you copy that text is that you know how to copy/paste. If you really believe it proves you are a good person, let me add that it only shows how easy is to manipulate you through your feelings. In any case, I would raise an eyebrow. Abusers are the quickest in pointing fingers to anybody else.

Likely, you're thinking that I'm having more than a sharp tongue and an excess of sarcasm case today. That could be true. Now, think about this: we all hold by the highest principles when we are not the person having a problem, or could have a problem by defending the abused one. Will you continue holding by those principles and being that compassionate, in situations where defending the abused one could make you to lose your job, your family, your properties, your health, your friends...?

Don't rush into saying "yes". I have to see what you will do in situations like some I've known about.

For example, I remember the case of a guy that I'll call Norman here. He was working in his father in law's company, managed by the elder son at that time (let's call him Robert). The real reason, as I knew later, trying to understand why Norman put himself under all that pressure, is that the in law's have asked him to investigate what was really happening in the company, for they were afraid that Robert was proceeding with some kind of fraud.

Robert wasn't naive and he figured out what his parents were up to, when they demanded the incorporation of Norman in the company. To make short a long story (since I also don't remember all the details well), this is what happened:

  • Robert manipulated people in the company to block Norman's ability to work.
  • Robert played several legal tricks to fire Norman.
  • People in the company knew they were doing wrong, but because they feared losing their jobs, they played as Robert's pawns attacking Norman.
  • Norman could complete his investigation anyway. As the truth of the size of the fraud was closer to be revealed, his in-law's became emotional and gave Robert all the legal power to hit Norman within the company.
  • The extent of the fraud that Norman found out about was appalling. The authorities went against Robert because of another fraud that wasn't what Norman was investigating, but financed with that money anyway.
  • Charges and a high fine were filed against Robert. The company closed. All the people that collaborated in helping Robert, the abuser, because of their fear, ended up losing their jobs when the economical crisis started to hit the country hard.
  • Norman's wife, unable to believe what her parents had done, cut the communication with them. They, in exchange, disowned her, for not divorcing from Norman, "who is guilty of the closure of the company and the problems your brother Robert has now".

Not bad. The abused is bullied and portrayed as guilty of what happened. If you ask me, I don't know what I would do unless I live that situation. Yes, sure, "you're against abuse". Does that mean you wouldn't let Robert to manipulate you through your fear? Let me doubt it.

This case is likely a not so subtle abuse case. There are hostilities in the open. And still, it shows that in difficult situations, most people are cowards and consent and favor abuse in hopes that it will not turn against them. If this happens when abuse is so clear, what would you expect when the abuser is a sweet snake? Let me go for another story.

Sarah (let's call her that way) was very timid and fearful of people when she started working in a certain advertising company. She was warmly welcomed, and soon she felt at ease, focused, and making a good job. She tried not to enter in disputes and to be fair when colleagues argued, asking to each side of the confrontation to see the situation with perspective. When arguments were up, she never took a stance for anyone, to avoid being dragged into the "he said, she said, you said" office drama dynamics.

There were a couple of colleagues that used to be always arguing with almost everybody (Martin and Leanne), because reality didn't fit into their strict vision of world. They were often right, but they were also often a source of conflict because of their attitude, and Sarah was always in the middle trying to mediate and achieve some peace. Since they were good in their job, and Sarah was always there to mediate and avoid conflicts, the company had no issues in keeping them.

After four years, Sarah's job was often praised, as well as her pacifying skills. One year after, another girl joined this company. Let's call her Vivian. Vivian wasn't specially skilled, but she was very sweet and kind, and because of her youth, Sarah thought she'd help her acquire the skills that Vivian was obviously lacking, mentoring her. Sarah always welcomed new people at work.

It was first Martin who started complaining about Vivian. Apparently, Vivian was making a lot of mistakes that didn't want to admit, while at the same time trying to copy Martin's work. Sarah mediated once more. It seemed clear that Martin's attitude was scaring the sweet Vivian, and Vivian used to tell Sarah "it's like nobody here likes me... at times I feel I should quit". The copying part was justified by Sarah as "Martin, please understand that Vivian is still learning... maybe it's telling something good about you, that she's chosen to follow your line of work".

Time goes by, and after several arguments this time with Sarah, Martin requested to be transferred to another department. Sarah couldn't believe at that point Vivian's continued mistakes. She wanted to believe that youth was the answer, and she talked to her about all of them. Vivian said "I'm sorry" and excused herself in the stress caused by being under the constant attack of Martin, who obviously didn't like her. When Martin's transfer request was accepted, Vivian had a slip, "finally that moron is away from here". Sarah didn't hear it, but Leanne did.

The story repeated now with Leanne. This time, Sarah began being more wary about Vivian. She also noticed a detail that scared her: Vivian was dressing exactly like her. Vivian noticed Sarah's wariness. Before Sarah had time to see it coming, for she was always busy either working or covering someone else's back, her bosses notified her of a complaint. According to that complaint, her behaviour was the cause of the many disputes happening in the last months in the company. They said having investigated it, and taken the decision of sending her home for a couple of days so she could "relax and focus again in the company's interests".

Sarah couldn't believe it. While she was at home, Leanne called her. "She's using your projects telling everybody she came up with them. She's not even waited for your second day's absence. Now tell me again she's a sweet person." Sarah realized she had been Vivian's target from the first day. Now it would be impossible for her to explain to her bosses what happened, since it was her, Sarah, who defended Vivian when other colleagues had issues with her, trying to be fair to the fact that Vivian was "young and lacking experience".

She decided to quit. The colleagues, although didn't want to confront the bosses, also decided to turn their backs to Vivian, as a protest to Sarah's quitting. Vivian couldn't use anyone anymore to blame because of her mistakes, and was eventually fired. Sarah never received an apology call.

Now this case is more subtle. Leanne and Martin's normal attitude made it difficult to realize that Vivian was jealous and needed the praise and the attention.

It's even more difficult to spot abuse when it consists of an accumulation of "often disdain in small doses, disguised as valid criticism" (what I call at times "the water drop technique" - A water drop alone does nothing. But one after the other fill a bucket and the bucket eventually overflows.)

For the abused, it's evident what's going on. But for everybody else, the abused seems to be obsessed about the abuser. To the eyes of everybody else, the abused looks like the abuser, like a person unable of admitting criticism and thus attacking the critic. They will not see anything weird in those "small doses", and because they are "small", when the abused tries to explain, everybody else says "oh come on, such a big deal over that little thing?" The abused is portrayed like someone overreacting, and nobody takes you seriously then. Everybody is collaborating with your abuser, by denying the abuse is happening, by denying even a slight consideration to the possibility. And it seems like the right and rational thing to do. The abuser knows, and takes advantage from it.

Something that seems to be a "common denominator" in all these stories is that seen from outside, you can't believe that people allowed to be so easily manipulated. For example, in Norman's case, people at the office could have chosen not favoring the investigation, but not attacking him either. They did. They did out of fear, and what they feared, happened anyway. Sarah should have realized earlier what Vivian was about, but Leanne and Martin's attitude made her think it was all a matter of jealousy. And what to say about the "water drop falling again and again" kind of abuse?

My conclusion here is that abuse seems clear from outside and once it happened and all is over. But while it's happening, and specially if you're one of the people involved (abused, abuser's pawn, etc.)... it doesn't seem so easy to tell. Now, how do you feel about? You keep thinking that spotting abuse, and so being empathetic, is so easy? Good luck in your life if the answer is a definite "yes".

IMAGE: Sweet Snakes. Are you sure that you can really tell who they are?, in Flickr.

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