Somewhere today, there will be breaking news that a well-known and/or powerful person has been accused of abusing an employee, co-worker or romantic partner. So, here’s the question: Did their bad behavior only start after they became well-known or powerful?
It seems much more likely to me that they didn’t become abusers when they became powerful, but that they became powerful because they were abusers.
Think about it — isn’t the most conniving, evil, creepy, abusive back-stabber in your workplace the one who’s most likely to get promoted? Isn’t the guy or gal who takes credit for your work, who cuts corners, who breaks the rules and sucks up to the bosses the most likely to skip a grade?
If this is true, then serial abusers are more likely to climb the corporate ladder, the church hierarchy or the military ranks than their more worthy co-workers. How else to explain the college bribery scandal — not to mention the political scandals, church scandals, corporate scandals and Hollywood scandals that are all happening at the same time? How is it that so many ethically challenged people have risen to the top of the heap over the good and decent ones?
Cream no longer rises to the top. At best, it’s tolerated down at the bottom. After all, somebody has to do the work while the abusers focus on getting ahead.
So often we hear about famous, powerful people making life miserable for everyone who works for or near them that it’s easy to think that it’s just a few people at the top of the news-making pyramid who are behaving badly. Really? Isn’t it much more likely that the same thing is happening right around the corner at the local fast-food franchise or chain store? The same thing is happening in those workplaces: The abusers will be rewarded by becoming division managers so they can spread fear and loathing further and further afield.
It’s not that no one notices. The abusers’ employees all know. But their wives never know; their bosses never know. Their equals never know. They are all shocked when the news comes out. “He seemed so nice!” Sure, he was — to the people he needed. The rest? Not so much.
There’s an old saw that says if you can’t handle a child at 6, you won’t be able to handle them at 16. The same is true of abusers. They’ll abuse at the lowest level of the totem pole as well as the highest. Rich or poor, there’s always a man who calls every waitress “honey,” “darlin’” or “sweetheart.” If you call him on it, he’ll say, “What are you so mad about? I’m being nice.” No, you’re being passive-aggressive and condescending. That same guy wouldn’t call the men in his life “honey.” He knows they wouldn’t put up with it.
”What about women, then? Are you saying they’re all saints?” Not at all. But as my dad used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Maybe women are just not as good at being conniving, evil, back-stabbing and creepy as men. The proof? Why are there so few women running Fortune 500 companies? Why are there are so few women in the Senate? Do I even have to mention the church hierarchies? How has that all-male bastion been working out?
In short, why do we seem hell-bent on rewarding all the wrong people? What is wrong with us? We can all be jerks sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to do it for a living.
Oh, yeah, I forgot. I kinda do.
— Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.