Friday, January 8, 2016

Swimming with Sharks: the Challenge of Dealing with Rude and Condescending People

When I was an undergraduate student,  my professors did a good job preparing me for the real world.  They shared personal experiences as well as material from textbooks.  But none of my teachers said anything about swimming with sharks. After nearly 32 years of being in the working world, I am reminded that such a skill is of utmost importance. Sharks are lurking everywhere.  They appear in the form of rude and condescending people. They are eager to put others down, so they can feel better about themselves  They are sharks.  Here are a few characteristics of such creatures. 

Sharks smell blood.  When you are discouraged, the shark senses it immediately.  If you make a serious mistake, the shark picks up on it faster than you can blink.  If you are going through a tough time, don't forget this important principle.  Sharks always smell blood quickly! 

Sharks bite.  I won’t go into graphic detail regarding the biting habits of sharks that live in the ocean.  But I am familiar with the manner in which workplace sharks lacerate those around them.  And unfortunately, even our own family members are capable of inserting their teeth in us.  As much as I hate to say it, there are sharks swimming among the saints in a church setting.  Take precautions when you are able. But don't be surprised if you get bitten occasionally.  It's not a sign of weakness on your part.  Sharks bite.  

Sharks are not an endangered species.  We are going to be swimming with sharks no matter where we live or work.  We should not be surprised.  We need to embrace such a reality and be prepared to swim beside them without being scarred for life.  Avoiding them is usually impossible.  Sharks of the rude and condescending variety are not on the endangered list. 

Safe swimming with sharks is possible, but there are a few rules… Be cautious in sharing personal concerns. Can I repeat that?  Be cautious in sharing things of a personal nature.  Sharks can disguise themselves as caring human beings, so be careful.  Henri Nouwen says: “It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close. Never allow yourself to become public property, where anyone can walk in and out at will (Nouwen, 1991).  Controlling the drawbridge to our heart is an important rule when it comes to swimming with sharks.

Avoid sharks when you are vulnerable. Sharks will attack you as a means of elevating themselves. As a minister, I have experienced this several times over the course of my career.  This breed of shark puts you down subtly or overtly.  And of course their put downs occur during times when you are feeling especially vulnerable.   Remember…they smell blood.   Be reminded that the shark is insecure, inconsiderate, and in some cases narcissistic too. When you are vulnerable, seek out those that love you.

Sharks understand biting.  I think there are times when it is appropriate to bite back.  (I am kidding.) But I do think it’s important to stand up and communicate clearly and firmly.  Establish some command presence with those that are inclined to run over you. Bullies will continue to bully until you stand up to them. Rude and condescending people can act just like bullies! 

So...happy swimming....When you face a rude and condescending person, perhaps you should let the theme music from the movie Jaws run through your mind! 


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