I started this blog some time ago with the intention of helping a friend, in some sort of way.
My friend had been bullied in the workplace, eventually dismissed when they fought too hard to defend their rights and then to defend their right to defend them, and suffered mental, emotional, physical, and financial hardships because of this fight, some of which at least are ongoing (and some of which, at best, are not).
This was a fight that didn’t need to happen in the first place- it hadn’t needed to be made into one by the institution of learning that had employed her to great effect for so many years. They should have behaved better. That is still my firm belief. They – of all types of institutions – should have done so, if only on principle. They didn’t. They put those things away, to save money, and face, and effort.
It came to a point where seeing my friend in pain caused me pain as well. This is an inevitable result of choosing to care about somebody else, I am told and then taught: their joys and sufferings become also your own. Not wanting to feel this pain of seeing a loved one in pain, I looked about me to see what particular thing I might have to contribute to the cause, and saw, of course, my own keyboard and fingers, with my own eyes.
I decided then to write an angry, appealing letter (can one be both?) to the presiding president of the university that had so effectively bullied my friend into changing all of her plans and upending entirely the life she had made for herself, with her own hard work and generous spirit. Because that institution is a powerful force, by virtue of being an institution (rather than an individual, many of which would count themselves lucky to have a few friends at all, and maybe even a lawyer – if only a pro-bono one), and because I myself am not immune to being bullied (or threatened by the fear of it), I sent the letter, rather last minute, under a pseudonym.
Bettanie B. Butterwell was therefore borne, and Send was then most certainly selected.
You might try to intimidate your employees – and through inevitable extension, their family, friends, and community of working and struggling folk – but you will not intimidate Bettanie B. Butterwell; she’s lived a bit too long to be taken in or else put out by such a thing. She knows there is a God (somewhere), and that we are called on (and eventually bound) to play nicer. To learn to play nicer, and then do that out in the wider world.
We are all in school. Even the teachers, and the teachers’ bosses – and whomever they might answer to, in their own manner and time.
This trick of the pen-name had not been something I had personally understood until that moment. I had to thank the neighbourhood bully for that, at least. There are always two sides to the coin.
For a time I left this letter as an “Open Letter” to that presiding president of that institution of higher learning. I called it an Open Letter because I had sent it directly to the man’s email address, and told him I would send it elsewhere if he did not proceed to do the right thing. It was not so big of an ask. He had been “warned”.
The truth is, I have no idea if he ever read it, or even noticed that he received it. Maybe he would have if he had. I imagine he, like so many working people, is busy, and often beset. I hope at least there are no bullies in his work life. That does make it quite a bit rougher to do one’s job, on behalf of their clients, and the world. I think as an academic, he might even have to agree.
I even followed up my letter-and-then-post with another open/closed post, when it became apparent the university and its chief executive had either missed my email or had filed it permanently elsewhere. I may or may not have sent that second, shorter email to the university itself afterward – I no longer recall. Since they had set the tone of not behaving like professionals, Bettanie no longer felt much obligation to attempt it back at them, any time soon.
The posts sat out in the open air, for some measure of time, upon a blog with nearly no followers – a blog among a million blogs. Nothing to see here. A small, semi-sharp needle in a very large haystack.
Still, that nagging doubt. What if – and if, when would – the blog be found out? Was a letter really an “open” one, if the recipient had not had a chance to think to read it themselves? I did not exactly know, never having thought to write one before.
Bettanie eventually questioned my own wisdom (be careful when you find yourself choosing to think to do this to yourself or to another’s wisdom) of leaving these posts hanging about for the world to see, because … well, we wondered what it might cause. Maybe some kind of trouble for somebody, or bodies. Bettanie is not a fan of trouble, and I am myself not immune to the implicit threat of being bullied into hardships – even if it might be her weathering it, at least for a time.
So this blog instead became another place where we would come to write together about things that didn’t fit quite right elsewhere… and the Open Letter got, and then kept itself, closed.
It did not seem fitting in any case for a lady in her eighty-somethings to breathe bitter words and then hang them out on the Internet of Things to dry forever – like so much laundry best brought inside, once sufficiently aired.
But, I am reminded now and then that my friend was not – and will not be, for quite some time to come – the only one among us to be caught in a lop-sided power dynamic of workplace harassment. And so it is for them, as well as those others with friends and family and community elsewhere (and all of ours eventually connect, you know), that I open the letters up again.
But behind a short password. For now.
Until perhaps we get a lawyer of our own.
This is the world that you and I still somewhat-sadly live within.
This blog is an attempt at social action, and like so many things I try and do, it’s being tried and done creatively, imperfectly, and in its own sweet time. Time is one thing we all should know by now that we have a rather finite amount of, in spite of our oftentimes infinite gifts in some or many other directions.
Better well get on with the giving-what-we-can, while we can.