“You don’t just have good people or bad people. You have complicated people. You have real people.” — Salman Rushdie
Sarah’s quitting her job as a physician in less than a month, and she’s been invited to a Christmas party. She tells me about her time there, and how delighted she is to finally be leaving after all these years.
It’s not so much the job, she enjoys meeting people and helping them. She just doesn’t have the same passion and drive, plus her coworkers are a bunch of jackasses. Well, except for Kelly. Kelly’s smart and funny.
Sarah tells me that she’s so sick of it and she doesn’t want to go, and that she’s probably going to make up some kind of last minute excuse to her boss.
Suddenly it’s as if Sarah realizes what it all must sound like and asks me: “Am I a bad person?”
I say “No,” and pause for a sufficiently awkward length of time as my mind scrambles for a reason as to why her behavior is acceptable.
I continue: “Not everyone is equipped to handle that, nor do you have to justify yourself to them. If you feel that your boss and colleagues either can’t handle your reasons for not going or if you don’t want to justify yourself to them, then there’s no reason to tell them the truth.”
At first I thought to myself: “Phew, that was a plausible line of bullshit. Let’s hope she believes it.”
Then I started realizing that maybe there’s something there. I did the same thing to her as I advised her to do to others.
I could’ve said something like: “Well, you aren’t a bad person Sarah. It’s just that you’re taking on responsibility for other people’s feelings when you really should worry about your own. If you don’t start being authentic then it’ll more than likely come to bite you in the ass in your next workplace. If they can’t handle what you’ve got to say? Fuck it. It’s not your responsibility to make sure they feel comfortable with it.”
But, I didn’t. Why?
It was an automatic decision. Because there wasn’t enough time to build on it. Saying that and then leaving her to work the rest out for herself isn’t helping anybody. There’s a lot that could go wrong. Sure, you could argue that a seed would’ve been sown for her to figure things out. But it wouldn’t have been worth it.
For now, she needs to know that she’s not a “bad” person. However, she’s not a “good” person either, she’s holding back and making other potentially harmful choices. Mainly for herself. Like you and me, she’s a complicated person.
After taking it in Sarah looks at me and says with a smile: “Yeah, I don’t have to tell them how much I’d like to punch them in their stupid faces. They can figure it out for themselves. Or, you know, not.”