Lifting 8/21/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Michelle Obama is credited for the quote “Strong men…don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up.” I don’t know the source of this quote, but I’m guessing that, if indeed she did say it, it was somehow associated with the Democratic National Convention, and is a veiled insult of the president.

It’s a fitting insult. The president launched his campaign threatening the Latin community, a threat he carried out on the border by separating families trying to immigrate as they entered the country legally at the border ports of entry. He spent his career demeaning and sexualizing women. Throughout his presidency, he has singled out those he perceived as enemies to attack rather than building bridges and uniting the nation.

For the past four years, I’ve watched his actions as president, how he treated his staff and administration, how he insulted and punished those he disliked often without reason, and I’ve recognized the narcissistic abuse of which I am all to familiar in my personal life. I’ve been fortunate to have had supervisors who have empowered, supported and lifted me up, and I’ve been unfortunate enough to turn on me and use me as their dumping ground to cover their own mistakes. I’ve been married to a narcissist for whom I could never do anything right, and I have good friends who treat me as if I can do no wrong.

If people are afraid for their jobs, they will do just enough to avoid being fired. They’ll feel unfulfilled, regardless of position or pay, and will seek new employment. They say that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses, and I agree.

As a supervisor, I worked hard to empower my employees. I never feared if any of them should “leapfrog” their way over me to become my supervisor, as their success was always mine as well. My goal was to create an atmosphere where people wanted to stay and took pride in their work. When I started my position as dean, I walked into a college where faculty were threatening to get attorneys and sue each other over some pretty petty issues. Before a hostile provost made the decision that she didn’t like me, I was making significant progress in unifying not only the college, but the entire campus. Cooperation and respect were on the rise, but I didn’t do it by making people feel underappreciated or in fear of their job. The provost who fired me did so as a warning to the other deans and faculty. It was her way of making sure they kept people in line, not unlike the frequency of turnover in the current Whitehouse administration.

But this goes beyond management. A friend of mine, for clarity let’s say “V”, just a moment ago, posted a meme on my social media page asking what she is good at. She lives where I was staying with a friend (let’s say “A”) of mine, allowing me to stay with her rent-free, one of several who stepped up when I needed a bed (what amazing friends I have). V and A are also friends, by the way, both of whom I met through the Renaissance fair for which they are both board members. But I found it rather odd that V should ask what she is good at, because for me, it’s an obvious question and an easy one to answer. I wrote, “Making people like me feel important, loved and needed even at our lowest.” I had SO many friends when I was a dean, and SO many friends when I was the director of the forensic lab. I had SO many friends as a tenured full professor. But I lost almost all of them when I lost my title.

Almost.

V, A, and so many other friends of mine have stayed with me when I found myself feeling homeless, unemployed and without income. These are true friends, friends who have nothing to gain from their friendship with me, but who wanted to stand with me, help me and keep me in their lives. These are friends with true strength, humble and loving, caring and giving, friends who have lifted me up at a time when I felt the world had crashed around me and would never be the same.

And it won’t. My world is gone, and I cannot imagine a path back onto the path that I had been on. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. My friends have used their power to lift me up so high that maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to see that another path might be even better.

This post did not go anywhere near the direction I had thought it would go originally, but, let me just wrap this up by thanking my powerful and loving friends. I love all of you so very much!

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