Today I witnessed someone in a highly authoritative position say something impolite to one of the people I support. I say impolite and what I mean is downright cruel. Had someone said it to me, I would have been unable to look him in the eye and quite possibly unable to look myself in the eye. The person he said it to is thick skinned but there is no way those words could have bounced off him. And I was not in a position to stick up for him- or that is what I have told myself. Probably I could have said something but it would have put me in a bad position. So I said nothing.
It is not in my nature to want to hurt someone’s feelings. I recognise that people are different but to me deliberate cruelty is incomprehensible. Doubtless the person in question thought that he was only joking. I remember at the age of six being told that you should always remove the words “just” or “only” before you say “joking.” There isn’t always a just or an only about it. That’s stuck with me these 23 years.
Of course I am not innocent of putting the “just” before the “joking.” I have said things in jest that have hit their targets far too hard. But when I reflect on those jokes now I cringe with guilt. To say something deliberately unkind- particularly to someone under my care, someone for whom I am a person of trust- is beyond me.
Working where I work and with the people I work with, I often berate myself for not speaking up. When I do speak up I am often told that I should take a joke, that I am too sensitive, that I don’t understand “what These People are really like.” It’s rare that my comments make a ripple. And so I pick my battles. Today is one that, in my heart, I know I could not have won. But I will continue to pick them and await the small victories and live in the naive optimism that says I will one day win the war.