Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Before graduate school began, I had agreed to work as a laboratory teaching assistant in the summer. I could stay at the dorm, periodically being awoken with a cockroach crawling across my face, which gave me ample time to find and secure a place to live before classes began.
One day, relaxing on my pitiful little bed, I was looking out the window. The shape of the building allowed me to see one of the corners of the building. Across the street was a rather large park as we were on the edge of the city. One day I was rather surprised to see a large predatory eagle sitting on the ledge. It couldn’t be enjoying itself, though, because as it sat there, looking out over the landscape, a small sparrow kept harassing it. This tiny bird was diving towards the eagle, squawking, and just being a general nuisance. I’m assuming the eagle was too near the sparrow’s nest, but it struck me how this small seemingly harmless bird kept attacking and harassing this very large bird of prey. Sure that the Eagle would simply ignore the sparrow, I was surprised when the eagle eventually took off and left the area.
Sometimes I think about this brave little sparrow taking on the bird of prey that could easily take it apart.
I’ve had the unfortunate luck of finding myself in the position of facing off against a few predatory birds in my day. As a tenured professor, when the dean realized that she couldn’t do anything to get rid of me, she turned her sights on to my then-wife, threatening her education by refusing to let her take classes, which forced me to resign to protect my wife’s education. As the director of the forensic lab, I had to go up against my captain in the hopes that I could make a difference in his bully tactics, but I don’t think I did make a difference. As a dean, I went against my provost to protect several of my faculty as she violated the university rules to put them in jeopardy. In all three positions, the people who hired me loved me, but it wasn’t until they left that their replacements decided that I had to go, and in all three positions, they had the backing of at least one higher up in the administrative chain, and every time, I lost. They displayed their superior power and predatory nature, and I lost. Every time.
And yet, I have to admit that I’m happy for having taken the falls. I had (and have) no family to protect and could afford to fight back, like that sparrow annoying the hawk. The reality is that I lost in my careers in exchange for knowing that I stood up against all odds and did what I believe was the right thing. In every case, I went down fighting, and fighting for those with less power.
Sometimes, like it or not, we must make a stand. We have no choice but to fight the losing cause, knowing that we will likely fall in the effort. That hawk could have easily torn the sparrow apart, just as mine did to me, but there was no choice. The sparrow set its priorities and fought the good fight.
And like the sparrow, sometimes the less powerful win.
It’s kind of a strange feeling when you know the upper echelon has decided that you are not only expendable, but that you need to go. It’s easy to take a knee to keep your job, and your income. But to stand toe-to-toe with somebody using their position as a bully pulpit, somebody how can destroy you with one call to HR and lets you know that they intend to do so, well, it’s interesting. Maybe it’s folly, but maybe it’s enough to make them think twice about what happened. Or, maybe they’re sleeping soundly as my demons continue to haunt my sleep.
When you are low, and when you are feeling powerless, think about that little sparrow. You have more power than you think, if you have the courage to tap into it. The odds are just that, odd. The chances may not be in your favor, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t chase that large predator off. You can do this. We can do it. Just don’t give up on yourself. Trust me, after it was over, that little sparrow flew off with his bragging rights intact and his chest puffed out further than it ever had been in its life.