Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Submission is Not a Passive Thing
You know the word. It’s one of my most unfavorite words in the English language.
I was momentarily encouraged when I read Barkat’s definition: “’Sub’ means ‘under.’ But true submission is more like the art of working with a person or situation, the way the steam from my teacup works with the breeze.” (I should say I was encouraged because of the reference to the teacup. I thought it didn’t apply to me because I drink coffee; then I realized that steam rises from a coffee cup, too.)
“Sub” does indeed mean “under.” And “mission” comes from a Latin verb (after being laundered by the French), mittere, to send or let go. It’s an action. In fact, the whole word describes an action. There is the action of understanding the person or situation, seeing a need in the other person or yourself, and then resolving to do something. There’s nothing passive about submission. It is, as Barkat suggests, a “working with.”
This immediately reminded me of a time when submission and I were strangers, and we shouldn’t have been.
A long time ago, I was caught up in one of those convulsive corporate organizational things, which involved a kind of dividing the sheep from the goats. It was not a foregone conclusion where I would end up, but at some point I must have rubbed someone the wrong way for I found myself assigned to the goats. And working for the worst boss one could imagine: insecure, mean, vindictive, and something less than fully competent. The one positive thing I could attribute to this boss was consistency.
I knew this going into the situation. I resolved to try to make it work. It lasted as long as the boss thought I was useful – about eight months. For those eight months, I thought there had been a fundamental change in the personality. Then it changed. And it changed overnight. Life at work became awful – and what I didn’t know was how actively the boss working behind the scenes. I was walking around with figurative knives all over my back.
I was partially rescued – a friendly executive had me moved to his team. But my work moved with me, and the old boss took that as a slap in the face and redoubled the efforts. Lies, half-truths, smears – the old boss stopped at nothing. It was not a fun time. The old boss eventually succeeded – I found myself being out in a downsizing wave. I found out before the proper time to tell me – my old boss couldn’t resist giving me the message.
However, the old boss had done too good of a job – and got caught in the same downsizing wave.
I would like to say that I submitted to the authority here, that I “came along side.” I did, for a time. And then it became an active effort devoted to self-protection. I stopped being nice. Mediating sessions hosted by HR became opportunities for me to crush the lies, and I did, and I did it ruthlessly, to everyone’s mutual embarrassment and discomfort. Which only made the situation worse. I was truthful; I was candid and straightforward; after all, it was my reputation that was being trashed. No one would have called me submissive, no matter what the definition of the word might be.
What would I do differently now? I don’t know. It was a hard situation and was very, very hard to go through it. It wasn’t a case of being trashed because of my beliefs or faith; it wasn’t what a lot of us might call “persecution” in the sense of one’s faith.
It was more about eliminating a perceived threat, even if it meant negative consequences for one’s team and work.
As if I needed reminding, I did learn that we live in a fallen world, and I’m a part of it.
Home by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.