‘There is no virtue in tolerating toxic behavior.’ Dr. Phil

I got a late night call from my daughter last week.  One of her best friends had been through a really difficult employment situation with a superior, and the more she told me about the event, the more I could see just how poorly her pal had been treated.

Being the warrior that my lil’ girl is, she was really fired up. And because birds of a feather tend to flock together, her pal was hard at work on several modes of remedying the bad behavior she had been shown. ( A resignation letter was just the beginning of how this pal was planning on acknowledging what had occurred.)

When I first heard ‘the plan’ my gut tightened up. In the scheme of things, this young woman was a mere pup- just 22 years old. Her desire to call out her boss for his bad behavior was bold. It was confrontive… and it was coming from a newbie college graduate, toward one who was considered seasoned and mature.

As I sat there with my tight gut, a memory from my younger days washed over me. I was a sophomore in college and I worked 20 hours a week at a local hospital as an electrocardiogram technician.  Because I was in school full time, the bulk of my hours came on Saturdays and Sundays where I worked 5am to 2pm.  On those early weekend mornings I spent many long hours alone in the EKG lab. One Saturday morning when I thought I was alone, I was busy removing a heavy box of supplies from a wall cabinet above me. Suddenly, while my arms were both up in the air, I felt something brush against me. As I turned my head around to see what it was, I was startled to see a well-known surgeon standing directly behind me. While my arms had been up in the air he had delicately grabbed both sides of the shirt I was wearing, and had lifted it to expose my back. My arms shot down to my sides like rockets- bringing the fabric of my shirt down as well. (He never physically touched my skin-just lifted my shirt up.) I spun around to face this man as he let out a little self-assured laugh. He looked me in the eye and said smugly, ‘ I heard you liked the beach and I wanted to see if you had any tan lines.’ Without missing a beat he strode out the door and went on his way. I was left standing there wondering what the hell had just happened and feeling embarrassed and confused.

I was 19 years old, unsure of myself, and had firmly accepted my low (wo)man on the hospital totem pole spot. I was just a kid, and who was I to stand up to a SURGEON??

I never confronted that doctor. I never filed a complaint. I never reported it to my boss, or told my parents. I did begin propping the office doorway that led into the main hallway open, and I started wearing a long white lab coat on every single shift I worked. (On weekends we were allowed to wear street clothes, and jeans and a long shirt is what I had been wearing when this event occurred.)

My daughter and her generation come up against their share of detractors these days- and I have to admit, on occasion I am one of them. They are a tatted up, pierced through, opinion waving, bold generation of humans- and this can be a little off putting. But there is also a nobility that shows through- an unwillingness to stay quiet about the things that matter to them- and I respect that.

In contrast, when I look back on my own youth, and my utter lack of ability to stand up to the hands-y surgeon who crossed an ethical, moral, and behavioral boundary he should have stayed behind- I find my apathy to be at least as off putting as the worst tattoo imaginable.

My daughter, with her impassioned late night phone call, reminded me that being bold does not always mean being disrespectful, and that being silent does not always create dignity.