Monday, May 29, 2017

Lessons from the people I hated

We all have beef with someone, it ranges from frenemies to arch-rivals. It is easier to get supporters for those we hate, dislike and fun to mock someone, than to relinquish one's hedonistic pleasure in seeing the other suffer.

From exes, to ex-friends, the people we encounter all have valuable lessons to offer. I am not referring to the usual rhetoric "s/he taught me so much about myself, how I can be the bigger person" type of revelations. Those are reflexive exercises. What about actual lessons? Those nuggets of words that were spoken by someone less than desirable but nevertheless we have to admit to be true. Direct lessons from the very person we love to hate.

I have a few, and I'll be happy to start the ball rolling and admit that I have come to appreciate the wisdom of those we do not like.

1. My ex-boyfriend
Our very first argument was over a person's work aptitude. I was an idealistic academic who believed that everyone deserved a shot an employment, citing post-colonial and post-structuralist discourses. My ex is the exact opposite - a potent realist who works in recruitment. He meets and interviews more people in a week than I do in 2 years in my research.

His conclusion is that some people in certain buckets can do it, and others don't. The line is drawn clearly between the has and has-beens.

At that time, I found that idea preposterous, almost infringing upon the very definition of access to equal employment. Yet, having been to the workplace for a couple of years now, I can fully appreciate where he was coming from. The wool over my eyes revealed both my ignorance and arrogance. I was viewing the individual through the lenses of my privilege - a privilege provided by having access to better education than most people.

Not everyone is cut out to do the jobs they think they can do. Not everyone enjoys the successes of entering the labour market. Like what Haresh Sharma illustrated in his play, "those who can't, teach" - not all students can be saved and some will fall by the wayside. It is a sad fact that is the outcome of many structural and individual factors outside of our control.

2. My secondary school ex-friends

There was a period of my teenage years, during O'levels, that I had no friends (except 1 or 2) because my own group abandoned me for an obscure reason (I pissed them off apparently).

Back then, the deepest moment of my teenage life, I felt like no one accepted who I truly am, and it was a fight or flight moment. I tried to adapt and readjust my worldviews, to see how most people see things. Eventually, I gained EQ and social-awareness.

However the direct lesson I learnt was actually from one of those confrontations I had when one of them said, "you make people feel stupid, and you make them feel like it's their fault. Yes, we are not as smart as you, but so what?" Little did I know that my criticism of their work and other personal stuff made others feel inferior. It is an obvious point on hindsight. Of course repeatedly pointing out someone's mistakes is going to give you backlash. However, the younger me didn't have this experience because I've been too preoccupied with what I think is right - that correcting each other and improving is what we do as friends. It never occurred to me that well-meaning words can become cruel cold reminders of a person's own insecurity. Not everyone is equally accepting of personal criticism. I was fortunate to learn this lesson at 16, and 12 years later, I still remind myself to be fair in my comments, even when others have made serious mistakes.

3. My if-you-know-you-know people

After my mum fell to her stroke, the worst part was my family's inability to grieve properly because this group of individuals were "busy" with their own grief that as the survivors of this traumatic incident, we had to drop everything to accede to their demands.

Ultimately, I have never bore so much disappointment in a group of adults. Being 19, I grow up, hitting your early-adult years, hunger for wisdom and guidance as I navigate an increasingly murky world, made more messy because no 19 year-old has to face her mother in coma. You never expect the people whom you'd assume all along to be there for you, to be the very people who let you down.

This is perhaps the only incident that also has a reflexive angle - I learnt that we cannot rely on anyone. If they are there to help me, then I'd be pleasantly surprised but I don't expect it from anyone.

Having said, I've learnt directly from this, how not to treat your own parents. Seeing the ways some people shuttle their own parents off to take advantage of a family tragedy, is both remorseful and distasteful. It is a small fortune that we turned out okay and I am forever grateful.

4. My ex-manager

A lot could be said about this ex-manager. I personally don't dislike her as a person, and there were meaner bosses whom I've learnt nothing from. However, despite her short temper and sometimes frayed instructions, I can honestly say that her lessons in working smarter has certainly paid off.

I have learnt much excel shortcuts, how to report data efficiently, as well as more effective communications. While I don't agree with her supervising style, I can see value in her work. While I have gone on to learn even more from others, but she was the one who truly gave me the toolbox an underskilled-and-over-educated grad student sorely needed.

I think the same can be said for many circumstances, and some people might call me a moderate. However, I think if we spend so much time ensuring the person we beat down never stands up, we lose an opportunity to learn something valuable that in turn strengthens our position. Assuming your goal is not driven by hedonism, and that your goals all along is in service of a purpose other than your ego, then it is sometimes necessary to take a step back and learn from the other, whatever the discourse, positivist or post-structuralist, right-wing or left-wing...