Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
Bullies are everywhere at my office right now. Bullies and manipulators. Mean people.
I’m not sure what’s caused this. Maybe it’s the stress of an upcoming inspection. I hate these IG inspections because they tend to be made into something more important than any war effort. Instead of focusing on helping employees and organizations improve their processes, it becomes a point of shame and gotchas. Stress brings out the best and the worst in people, and in the latter case, it costs respect.
As the Bible verse goes, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Stress causes people to make quick and ugly judgments without stopping to think if someone else is hurting or the reason for their actions. Their worst comes out. They sound and seem mean, unreasonably mean. Once the judgment is made in a hurtful way, there’s a flip side. The judge becomes the judged, and that often changes all future actions.
Here’s what I mean, published originally on 23 October 2007.
A single phrase of judgment can cause destiny to turn on a dime. In less than 10 seconds, a look, a few words, and a tone of voice can be a turning point for both the judge and the judged.
Last week, I saw Shannon sour on one of her favorite college instructors and courses. Though the course hasn’t been easy, she’s been excited about the subject matter and enthusiastic about the instructor–until a moment of being mis-judged. She’s kept a high grade in the class, in spite of back-to-back flu and migraines and taking an exam during a splitting headache, but she was taken aback when the instructor jumped to conclusions and lumped her in with the slackers. Shannon’s enthusiasm for the class and instructor died immediately, and the distaste of being misjudged changed her plans to take more such courses from this instructor.
It’s ironic. The instructor just alienated one of her most enthusiastic students. I wonder how often she’ll lament that her students aren’t as excited about her classes as she is and blame the people around her.
It’s made me think of different times when I changed my course because of a judgment that was passed on me and how I’ve judged that person back as unworthy of my respect or my time or my affection. Probably the one in my career field that made me turn on a dime was back in 1999 when my Colonel sent me to a new job where, he said, I would be a “gift” to The Big Female Boss because I was the out-of-the-box thinker she needed and we’d be able to do great things together. I hit both emotional peaks and valleys there, with the last peak being the first day on the job.
I can still remember the sheer excitement of the first day, which I was to spend settling in. I showed up in a suit with about six boxes of plaques and awards from my previous office and a big smile on my face. My new supervisor, who’d already met me and had seen my previous work space which actually had a door (!), directed me to her old cubicle and told me to make it mine and decorate it any way I wanted. Though I’d left my previous office in spit-shined shape, I spent the first half of my first day on the job on top of the desk and cabinets, in my suit and pantyhose and pumps, scrubbing down half an inch of moldy dust, wiping down sticky concentric circles, and vacuuming up food crumbs and bugs. Gah. Welcome, indeed.
I spent the second half of my first day on the job decorating my office. In previous offices, I’d had lots of plants, bookshelves, lamps, pictures, curtains–a regular home away from home, since I would spend considerably more time in my office than in my own house. I tried to replicate that in my new, freshly-scrubbed office, including tacking my daughter’s artwork to the bulletin board next to my computer and a not-scantily-clad Xena poster my former office had given me that I put up in a location that could be seen only from inside my cubicle, which was off-limits to people outside my office. I double-checked with three much higher-ranking people in my new organization’s chain of command to make sure I could decorate however I wanted and they all thought my office was wonderfully inviting and were happy to have someone “non-stuffy” in their midst, they said.
At the end of the first day, my supervisor came by to ask if I needed anything (now that everything had been scrubbed) and I asked if there was any problem with anything I’d put up in my office. She laughed and assured me that it was all just fine, though a few days later she mentioned that The Big Female Boss, to whom she was “personally very close,” did not permit personal items in the workspace and that my supervisor herself didn’t keep pictures of her kids at her desk. But at the end of my first day on the new job, I left somewhat sweaty from all the housecleaning work and smelling of Lysol, but I was still quite happy.
On the morning of my second day on the job, I arrived early and eager. As I walked in the door, The Big Female Boss was stepping into the elevator. She held the door for me and I ran for it, very excited to get a few minutes of time with her and tell her, honestly, how much I was looking forward to working with her. Instead, my official welcome was the elevator ride to the sixth floor, during which I was berated for being unprofessional and lectured on what a “serious ship” that The Big Female Boss ran and that I was to take down anything personal in my new office and obviously I didn’t know what I was doing professionally. Yeah, gift indeed. I’m amazed now that I actually got off the elevator and didn’t just slump to a mute puddle in an elevator car going up and down all day.
The rest of the day was spent cowering in my new cubicle with its now-blank walls as various bosses stopped by to apologize and tell me how much they hoped I would still enjoy my job and how much THEY were looking forward to working with me after the great stuff I’d done in my previous office. Those people were the sole enjoyment I had in that job, for the rest of my time there. That second day was actually not the worst of my tenure, given my supervisor’s petty powerplays that eventually did get her removed, but it was the first day of a job that I hated every minute of.
The irony? Most of the people I worked with nodded and smiled to The Big Female Boss, but privately disagreed with her some or all of her vision for the future. More than anyone else I worked with, I completely bought-in to what she was doing and where she was going with it. I was one of the biggest supporters of her ideas, yet in the first ten seconds of our first meeting, she alienated me and I could never give her the personal support she expected. After that elevator ride, it simply wasn’t in me to give it no matter how much I might have wanted to.
Like with Shannon’s instructor, there were many ways she could have responded to me without the disapproval, the jumping to conclusions, the berating. It’s too bad they don’t teach that to those who lead by position. Sometimes I wonder what turns my career would have made there if, on that elevator ride, she’d said in an even or light or casual tone, “Your supervisor may not have told you yet, but I have certain preferences for how I want my managers’ cubicles to look and I’d like for you to remove anything that isn’t specifically job-related.”
They say that life is lived and decided in moments–that in one moment we will choose to do something or not, that we’re born in a moment and die in a moment, that we marry in a moment and sign divorce papers in a moment, that we are conceived in a moment and conceive our children in a moment. It was in that moment in the elevator that I made particular decisions about my future, and all because of a not-so-well-turned phrase.