For today’s post, I am drawing upon two things: a book that I recently finished as well as a comment from a colleague about a week ago. I just finished “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” by Piper Kerman. It’s the book upon which the Netflix series is based; however, the book is much more pensive and thoughtful where the Netflix series is snarky and full of drama.
Nearing the end of the book, Kerman mentions that being in prison, where by definition society is telling you that you are bad, she surprisingly was reminded that she was still a good person. I can’t remember the passage and to be honest, I might be misunderstanding it. But in prison, she was the anomaly: the white, elite college-educated prisoner surrounded by women of lesser economic and personal circumstances. The others prisoners frequently reached out to her for help and looked up to her as a leader of sorts. And being from a privileged background, she was constantly reminded of how lucky she was and how much worse other people had it in their lives. After her year in prison, she would leave and return to a loving fiance and a comfortable life. Others, she knew, returned to the outside world still undereducated and lacking the financial resources to be able to avoid the poor decisions that put them in prison in the first place. She remarks about the irony about being in the worst place to get confirmation, sometimes from surprising sources, that in fact she was a good person.
The second thing that I am reflecting on is a comment from a coworker. She and I had previously worked together and she was really kind in referring me to my current employer. Throughout the interview process, I kept in touch with her and one thing that I kept telling her was that I was less concerned about getting the job and fucking up and it reflecting poorly on me. I was more concerned about getting the job and fucking up and it reflecting poorly on her. It’s always a risk when you refer a person to a job, particularly to a place where you work, and I just didn’t want to let her down.
We went out for drinks with some of her friends, which I think is always an interesting transition. It’s one thing to go out with coworkers but it’s another thing when worlds start melding and you’re invited to view a different aspect of a colleague’s life. Admittedly, a lot of drinking was done. But during drinks, she told her friends that I was the best– so smart and funny and snarky and great. Ok, yes, so this part of the post is a little bit of a humblebrag. But it was weird to hear a person speak so positively of me because, I dunno, I figure people go through life, I know that I go through life, just doing whatever. And you hope that you are well received. Sometimes you are and sometimes you aren’t. And really, without feedback, you kind of just hope for the best and hope that you aren’t being/people don’t think you are an ass. I am a really blunt and honest person. I’m also really snarky. And I figure it earns me some enemies and I try to be more balanced about it. So it was weird to hear that someone saw this not as a flaw but a positive trait.
The two of these together make me think about the concept of expectations– specifically the expectations of others, whether explicitly stated or unspoken. It makes me think about your perception of your social contract with life, with others, with society. It makes me think about the intersection of what you could do, what you should do and ultimately what you do do.
I think in the grand spectrum of being naughty or nice, I am nice (though probably not on the extreme of nice. Very honestly, probably in the middle edging nice). I think that I like people. I think that I aim to do the right thing. I think that I am generally generous.
But I think this year has been a trying time with a lot of change in my life, some of it bad. And so I think aspiration aside, I have had naughty moments. I have encountered people that I did not think well of. The “partiers” at my last job come to mind– people who were self-centered and selfish and whose behavior only detracted from the happiness of others. Being cyberbullied from one of my ex-colleagues was another low point– having a person who I had disengaged with over a year ago follow me online and make disparaging comments to me. Being laid off from my last job under what were supposed to be financial issues but what I now suspect were other reasons is another. It was a tough year and I have had some really low points.
There is a saying, I can’t remember the source, that says that what matters in life is not what happens to you but rather how you react to it. So the naughtiness is not that shitty things have happened in my life or that I’ve encountered shitty people. The naughtiness on my part is how I have reacted to it– at times not with grace or generosity. It sucks when shit happens and it’s so very very hard not to lash out when it does.
But as a civilized adult, I know that I have to. But more so, knowing that others hold me in high regard, that people think I’m a good person, means that I have to try harder to do the right thing, even when the situation is tough. I am going to actively think about this and honestly try. I know that I will fail at times. But I think that it is something worth thinking about and aspiring to.