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When we still should have accountability

October 1, 2018

The past few weeks have been especially difficult. Mainly as they have been rife with work-related chaos and extremely long hours and many of these hours were often spent with a person who treated me with full-on disdain. Once the project finally finished and I was catching my breath, I shared a few of the low points with a friend.

“Have you ever heard that you teach people how to treat you?” she asked. “Because if you haven’t, maybe you should look into it.”

After we parted, I thought about what she’d said — and felt kind of insulted. I’m an extremely quiet person. Well-behaved. Mannerly. Obedient. In a nutshell, I treat people the way I want to be treated. Yet hadn’t she suggested the mistreatment this person sent my way had been my own doing? I had been to blame.

I kept thinking about the “you teach people how to treat you” saying, which I’d heard before many times, but had never given much thought. I ended up going online to read up on the subject and spent several hours reading one article after another. While much of it seemed trite in a one size fits all sort of way, there were bits that made sense.

For instance, one article mentioned people subconsciously picked up on how we treat ourselves based on outward things like how we dress or carry ourselves. If they see us running ourselves ragged, not setting boundaries or even regularly eating unhealthy food, it shows we don’t care for ourselves. If we don’t, why should they?

I routinely run myself ragged, burning my candle on both ends with another flame blazing in the middle. I’m often too rushed to eat healthy, instead grabbing what’s fast and handy to keep going, rather than make the effort to get something better for me.

According to the experts, this behavior tells those around me I don’t value myself, therefore they needn’t value me either.

This viewpoint took me aback. I honestly believed my actions reflected work ethic and dedication, a determination to get things done, regardless of personal cost. Apparently not. Humans are programmed to view those who fling themselves into projects as people you can pile even more on, while reserving

respect for those who do the piling on.

I ran across some interesting, yet fairly simple suggestions on how to subtly get better treatment from others. For instance, writer Bill Murphy Jr. of Inc. suggests dressing a little bit above the rest of your crowd.

“We live in a pretty casual world now,” Murphy wrote. “But if you dress up slightly beyond how your colleagues dress, you’ll subtly indicate that they should treat you with a bit more respect.”

I’ve seen this concept in practice at the place I now work. The dress code is casual, with most wearing jeans. I’ve noticed that those who dress a step beyond denim seem to garner more respect, even when their positions and tenure are equal to or lesser than those around them.

By and large, though, the articles would rapidly devolve from the seemingly harmless “take care of yourself” mentality into the “take care of yourself at all costs, first and always” sort of thing, with techniques on how to become the vulture, rather than one who suffers having the meat plucked from their bones.

And that’s where it clicked, where I finally recognized what it was about the whole “you teach people how to treat you” business that was rubbing me the wrong way. It takes the responsibility off the abuser. It says the person being mistreated is somehow to blame.

Like the short skirt makes it the girl’s fault she’s assaulted.

Managing to have a soft heart in a hard world requires courage, not weakness. There’s an Atticus quote that I love, and to which I now relate: “The hardest step she ever took was to blindly trust in who she was.”

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.

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