Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beware of the bear (but which one?)





I've been thinking a lot about bears lately. I believe it's safe to say we all know bears are dangerous animals that need little if any provocation to chase you down and have you for dinner (literally) and should be respected and, yes, feared. But what about when people turn into bears? What reaction do they deserve?

Recently I came across a bear of sorts, in an office setting of all places. This bear reacted to something I had done as if it had been a personal attack, which everyone else around knew it was not. He came at me with teeth showing, claws bared, ready to gnaw on my throat and throw my remains into the trash... or maybe the recycling. Either way, the bear was in the wrong, as bears can be in their assumption that someone or something is a threat to their manhood (or bearhood). Now, I will give a real bear leeway here - you can't very well explain or defend yourself when you're in the middle of the woods standing next to his favorite berry tree. You should, however, have the opportunity to explain or defend yourself when facing a bear in a suit and tie. If they will let you get a word in edgewise. That was not going to happen.

I respect bears, and in fact, any creature that might decide I would go well with a nice bottle of chianti. Respecting someone who acts bear-ish is another story. Who among us has not had someone "put them in their place" in a completely unacceptable way for utterly wrong reasons? It's difficult to respect someone whose approach is to demean and embarrass you, especially within earshot of others. Even when you are steadfast in the fact that you did nothing wrong, the sheer force of the attack can wither your will to stand up for yourself. Sometimes you need support. Which leads me to another type of bear.

The Mama Bear. Now there's a bear I can relate to and understand, because I am one. My girls know full well that someone might mess with me and get away with it, but try messing with one of my offspring and find out just how big of a mistake that was. While I believe I've taught them to be strong in their convictions, we all know standing up for yourself is just plain hard when you are being thrown under the bus. Mama bears tend to stand in front of the bus and stare the driver down. My kids would likely say that's my specialty.

What I discovered this week was that mama bears can be found in the most unexpected places. While I was trying to regain my composure after the initial onslaught, little did I know that a fire had been lit under someone who heard everything (it would have been almost impossible not to). So the next day when the person who would make the final call was back in the office from a road trip, she was given a blow-by-blow account by someone other than me that I'm fairly sure wrapped up with, "This was totally not okay."


Within minutes of the bear appearing that day (acting as if nothing had happened), he was briskly shown the error of his ways. Did he agree? Of course not - bears in suits don't have the capacity to think past licking their own... wounds. Mama bears, however, do have a distinct talent for making it crystal clear this will not happen again. Or else. Even bears have enough sense to not ask what "or else" means.

Two things strike me here.

The first is that this particular bear is an intelligent, somewhat successful, supposedly sophisticated person. I wonder if he realizes he came down a notch or two not just in my eyes, but in the eyes of others who had been witness to his unwarranted rage.

The second is that knowing others had my back made all the difference in how this scenario was dealt with. I did take some offense to the fact that, while this bear had absolutely no trouble berating me loudly in a totally inappropriate setting, he did not have the... the... I'll go with guts here - he did not have the guts, or the class, to apologize in the same setting. Instead he sent an email that was one third apology, one third justification (poor excuse) for his behavior, and one third "feel free to talk with me about it," which I chose to pass on. But because I knew by then someone else had stood up for me when she didn't have to, I was able to let it go. A mama bear had my back, and it meant more to me than she knew.

We are surrounded by bears on a fairly regular basis, people that seem to specialize in crushing you with their thoughtless, stinging words or actions. Thankfully, we are also gifted with mama bears, male and female, who don't hesitate to step up - and in - when they witness someone being weakened by aggression. Those are the bears that deserve respect.

So don't be afraid to let your inner bear have some input when necessary.

As long as that bear is your mama.


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