I was Halloween shopping at Wal-Mart last week when I heard a familiar voice call to me. I turned around to find an elderly man sitting in one of those motorized scooters and, though the voice was familiar, his appearance threw me for a loop.
It was Doug! He had been a contractor at my old place of employment and back then, he had been a very large and very intimidating man. From the very first day I had to deal with him I was very uncomfortable. He came into our office every single morning and every single evening to do his job. He was foul-mouthed, bossy, angry and left a mess for us to clean up every single time. Nobody liked working with him.
However some employees knew him outside of work. They didn’t have to work with him like I did. He was a gentleman around them and they clearly liked him and would stop to chat him up when they saw him. They knew him from church.
That was so odd to me as I found not one thing to like or appreciate about the man. My only experience of him was as a sexist bully.
Eventually he was fired when he pissed-off someone who mattered more than those of us who had been complaining about him for a couple years.
So in that moment at Wal-Mart, I had to make a decision. Should I be short with him and try to get away like I would have had to back in the day? Nope. He has no power over me any more. So my decision was to talk with him as if the way he is now was the way he had always been. It was still an odd conversation.
When he talked about how surprised “we” had been when I quit my job, I wondered how he could possibly know about that since he had been fired and no longer worked there before I left. When he said I was missed, again I wondered how he could possibly have known that. He was speaking about my quitting the same way people who really had liked me have spoken to me about it. The truest and most tactful thing I could say in that moment was that I missed a couple people there but not too many of them.
It was an odd encounter but it made me realize some things. For one thing, I guess that he has both of those people inside of him–the miserable, selfish, and aggressive person I was stuck working with and the polite, friendly, interested church-goer who is capable of making a positive impression on someone when it suits his purposes. I wouldn’t have thought something like that was possible!
For another thing, I don’t have to be affected by either of those versions of Doug. I don’t have to waste valuable energy trying to figure this person out. I don’t have to like him. I don’t have to approve or disapprove him. He’s got his place in this world and I have mine. I don’t have to be affected because I have boundaries now that I didn’t have back then. Boundaries are so very important!!!
The last thing I realized is that I have been very powerless throughout most of my life. Many people have taken advantage of me in order to benefit their own situation or at least make their lives easier. Those people tend to become my enemies. Casting people in the role of enemy has often been my only recourse–a boundary of sorts.
As I heal and gain power within myself, I am also gaining skills and that may help me to repel the people and behaviors that would take advantage of me. Only time will tell but right now it’s looking pretty good.