A young woman whom the ODP has supplied to our county as a Field Organizer for the political campaign this year tries to recruit volunteers from every person who comes into the Headquarters or with whom she speaks on the telephone. This, of course, is how she should conduct herself and I like her enthusiasm, idealism, and work ethic; I recognize that she is following what her superiors have instructed but I hearken back to the time when I also thought that I knew everything.
Yesterday I was out of the office attempting to locate people listed as purged voters, trying to re-register them.
When I returned, the Field Organizer told me that a woman had come in to pick up yard signs and she'd asked her to volunteer and the woman had reacted in a very negative, insulting manner. She found it hard to believe that she even wanted signs or that she was a "good Democrat" because of the "attitude"; I explained the difference between "attitude" and "behavior", but realized the comparison was lost on the young idealalogue.
The following colloquy ensued between the two of us: I asked, "What did you say to her?" She answered, "I told her that we needed volunteers." I asked, "And what did she say?" She replied, "She told me that she had always done her part." I asked, "How old is she?" "Oh, I think she's old enough to be my mother."
I said, "Please tell me that you DID NOT say WE need to be doing more than JUST vote." She looked bewildered and admitted that she had used that exact.phrase and asked, "How did you know what I said?" I told her that I'd heard her say it on the telephone numerous times. She asked what was wrong with saying it. I asked, "Don't you realize how condescending that is?" She said that she didn't believe it was condescending. I said, "So, here you are, a kid, talking to a woman old enough to be your mother, who has participated in numerous campaigns before you were even born, and you used the dreaded WE." She asked, "What's wrong with saying we?" I replied, "It is very patronizing and it comes off as lecturing and critical from you, a kid, to tell HER that she needs to do more than JUST vote when she knows what she has done in her life and you DO NOT!" I told her, "I told myself that this campaign I was NOT going to say that it is the most important election of my lifetime." She didn't allow me to finish but said, "But it IS; and YOU understand THAT, why don't they understand that?" I said, "Because, just like you, I thought my first campaign was the most important."
She said that she still didn't understand WHY people don't care. I told her that while I agree that WE need to do MORE, I am not a naif who thinks we can SHAME people into doing it.
I told her that I wanted to give her an example of the danger of being young and condescending. When I was a young supervisor I was about to enact disciplinary action for the first time in my career. I called the employee to come to my office where I was sitting down behind the desk. I gestured for him to sit down but he he remained standing, with arms crossed over his chest. I opened by saying, "I thought that we could sit down to discuss the problem." He answered, "WE? Do you have a TURD in your pocket?" I was stunned and speechless. He continued, "And what the Hell do you think you're doing, calling me in here without my Steward? Get my Steward NOW!"
Obviously, that session was a complete failure on my part. Later, in discussing MY problem with my boss, he told me, "Never be condescending to a person old enough to be your parent." I began defending myself by saying, "I don't think it's condescending." He said, "Well, then, choose another word--perhaps PATRONIZING--you seem to be good with words; you should never talk to a grown-up man as if you are all-knowing!"
Not only did I learn not to be condescending, I also learned from that employee and used his tactics at other times in my life: such as seizing the conversation, using a power move such as refusing to sit down, and the defense mechanism of crossing arms over one's chest.
I oftentimes wondered if the man understood the psychological dynamics of the situation with his machinations or that he was just naturally a PRICK!