[ Bully is such a strong word, and that’s why it didn’t make it to the final title. But anytime you feel like you’re being bullied and you don’t know how to fight back, just speak out. That’s when the process starts. Mabuhay All Blacks on their back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles and belated happy birthdays to Luna Miranda Zamudio and my mom Erlinda from Wellington NZ, Auckland, New York, NY, Naga City Camarines Sur, Claveria Is. Masbate, and all over the world! ]
ALAM MO (you know), it’s just too easy sometimes to make it a race thing. You know, big white guy versus small brown guy, big white bisor harassing small Asian worker. Except that it’s not that simple, and it gets complicated sometimes. So let me just put it out there and say it’s Not A Race Thing.
I’m already getting ahead of myself. Let your kabayan elaborate (somewhat).
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For lack of a better name, itago natin sya sa pangalang (let’s give him the alias) Ivan. Ivan is the typical stoic European worker who prioritizes his work, and the quality of his work over everything. He has a nearly non-existent social life, talks little at work, and does everything according to Hoyle (the rule book). All these make him, let’s face it, a recluse at work who people generally avoid. But he’s one of the best workers and everyone knows it.
Unfortunately, whoever stands in the way of Ivan’s work and his goal of doing the best he can, all day and everyday, is roadkill. Roadkill in the sense that he will tell the latter to get out of the way, sidestep him or in some cases, step over him.
Friday began awkwardly enough, with our team leader coming to work but in no shape to lead us, and just giving us the maintenance tasks, Friday being a maintenance day. On the way to get our tools and protection gear, Ivan observed that the sliding door to the main work area had been left partially open and the windows unclosed, a big no-no to him. Guess who was the last shift boss on site, who automatically is accountable for everything left on or open?
That’s right, your very own loyal kabayan, little old me.
Strike one, Noel.
Ivan made no uncertain words about how he felt, telling me straight that “there is no excuse” for leaving anything undone or awry, particularly for someone in training like me. In so many words he made sure that I realized that taking your work seriously includes all the little things, and that he was more than a little disappointed in me.
At that point all the awkwardness was gone because inside and out, I’d owned up to what I did and was truly remorseful, no matter that it was just doors and windows and there were still external doors and gates outside.
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But Ivan wasn’t done. He pointed out that the work we were doing together (cleaning specialized machines that were cleaned only every six months) was something that was supervised poorly and done even more poorly the last time, coincidentally by a team that I belonged to the last time.
Strike two, Noel.
He kept going on not only about the quality of work but the lack of awareness of what our team had done before, and said something that made me uncomfortable:
If you make a mistake this time, I will bring you to the graveyard.
I just looked at him, one time out of a thousand occasions where I merely accepted some outrageously intimidating things he said. But this time I had to say something.
Ivan, do you mean that figuratively or literally? I asked.
Without even wasting a breath, he said literally, of course.
I couldn’t back down now.
So are you saying you’ll kill me?
His counter-reply was more startling.
No, I’m saying I’ll bury you.
With his intent to intimidate clear as day, I had to say something.
Ivan, you should choose your words carefully, I said as plainly as I could. Otherwise you might regret it. I was very diplomatic in my words but my tone was direct as possible : Your mayabang mouth will get you in trouble, friend.
[ I need to add that he had been reported to management for unacceptable behavior once a couple years ago. I don’t know the outcome of his disciplinary (meeting) but undoubtedly that outcome was foremost in his mind that moment. :) ]
The words had the desired effect. He quickly said something about his intention to leave me to my devices if I slipped up because looking after my safety was not his job. Obviously that wasn’t his original meaning.
Again, in a very diplomatic manner, I told Ivan that while I was grateful for the training he was giving me, I didn’t appreciate being talked to that way.
His constant prattle and talking about work was curiously absent the next 45 minutes until we had finished the job and moved on to another task.
It was evident that we were both more than eager to move on from that awkward incident and the rest of the day passed smoothly, besides a few minor kinks that had to do with work.
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Just two more points I have to make.
I’d been working in the same site with Ivan the past seven-plus years, but I had never, and I mean NEVER talked back to him, always, uh-huh, yes, sure, I agree, anything to make myself agreeable. Maybe it worked, maybe it hadn’t, maybe he thought I was just someone he could walk over anytime.
While that would have made things easier at work, it wasn’t going to make him respect me. I didn’t plan to say anything like that, but thinking back, it was a good start.
Second thing is, I always respect authority (especially at work), and although Ivan was the supervisor that shift, he was out of line saying the things he did. Asians, particularly Filipinos, are loath to argue with bosses because loss of face is so important. But inevitably, there is a personal “red line” that once crossed, must be dealt with.
Because of our physical stature, our easy-going nature, and our eagerness to avoid confrontation, nine times out of ten we are viewed as pushovers by others. Let’s make sure that one time out of ten counts.
I actually didn’t do much that day, but in my scheme of things, it was enough.
Thanks for reading!