Wounded Bird Syndrome

False weakness is deplorable.

I once knew a woman who refused to learn to drive. And this was not a town where public transportation was abundant. Uber didn’t exist yet, and taxis were few and far between. But even if they had been available, she wouldn’t have taken advantage of that service. No. She wanted her adult children to chauffeur her everywhere she went. And they did.

It would be one thing if she were physically or mentally incapable of driving. But she was fine. Just fine. She had what I began to call Wounded Bird Syndrome. See? I have a broken wing. You must do all the flying for me.

Her passive aggressive manipulations were honed to a sharp point. Her kids were at her beck and call. They never said, “Mom, we’ll take you to the grocery store once a week, at this time.” No. If she had a hankering for cupcakes, she’d expect them to drop everything.

She reminded me of a client that I had when I did Food Stamp eligibility in Florida. She was diabetic. But she couldn’t stand to give herself insulin shots. So her husband couldn’t hold down a job, because he had to stay by her side to give her the shots.

I mean, come on, now. I’m sure that being a diabetic is a misery, but woman up and learn how to give yourself insulin so your loved ones can function.

Yes, in both these scenarios the people in question were enabled to a shocking degree. But charity begins at home. Solve your own problems.

Yes, it often sucks, being a grown up. But you have to learn how to do your own heavy lifting. It’s okay to ask for help sometimes. It’s definitely okay to ask for help when you are genuinely physically or mentally in need of it. But when your dependence is self-imposed, and it encroaches on the lives of others to the point of being debilitating, what you are doing is cruel.

I admire people who value their own agency. I appreciate those who are capable and independent, and those who do the best they can with the cards they are dealt. False weakness is deplorable.

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There’s nothing I hate more on this earth than a bully. And I happen to interact with one regularly. Her aggression really intimidated me at first. But over time when she realized I wasn’t going to budge about certain things, she then had to get increasingly nit-picky until now the things that she blows up about seem ever more pathetic.

Now when I see her starting to puff up like a bullfrog, instead of becoming tense, I’m hard-pressed not to laugh. I can see how weak and ineffectual she truly is, and it’s quite obvious that that’s the one thing she fears—that her weakness will be revealed. That’s the thing about bullies. They may seem to loom large, but they’re really hollow inside.

I’m a fairly laid back, peace-loving individual, but if someone bullies a person that I happen to love, watch out. I will cut a beyotch. Don’t even try it. Funny that it has only been recently that I’ve learned to stand up for myself as ferociously as I stand up for those I love. And even now, it’s doesn’t come naturally to me to do so. But the older I get, the more tired I become, and the less I’m willing to tolerate abuse.

It’s rather sad that we live in a world where we have to learn to counteract such hostile behavior in order to effectively function. But it’s nice to be one of the good guys. I look at my bully and I don’t envy her that miserable existence. She may think she’s punishing others, but the main person she punishes is herself, because she’s tense, unhappy and friendless.

[Image credit: aqualandpetsplus.com]
[Image credit: aqualandpetsplus.com]


I can always tell when my coworkers are burned out. They stop coming to work early. In fact, some of them will arrive a few minutes early but wait in their cars, only coming in at the last possible moment.

They are perfectly within their rights to do so, of course, but what that means is the person on the shift they are relieving can’t leave until they arrive. I know personally that when I’ve had a long day, being able to leave even five minutes early is a gift. Because I know this, I try very hard to show up early for others. It’s an easy gift to give.

But I can understand the thought process. “Why should I work 5 minutes for free?” “So and so never comes in early for me. Why should I come in early for him?” “I am tired of giving and getting nothing back.” It’s particularly hard to be generous when the recipient is someone you don’t like.

But that’s when generosity stops being generosity. When it becomes all about “What’s in it for me?” and not a sincere act of kindness without a scorecard, it gets sick and twisted and unhealthy.

If sometimes you get fed up because it seems like you’re being taken advantage of on all sides, consider this: These are the moments when you get to show what you’re truly made of. If your first instinct is to withdraw kindness, then you’ve just done some damage, yes, but not to those around you.

I try to be generous without giving it much thought. Sometimes I struggle with this. Sometimes I have to force myself to be generous in spite of my baser instincts. I know in these situations I’m just going through the motions and being insincere. But I think it’s important to keep up this emotional muscle memory, because I never want to become one of those people who waits in her car until the last possible minute.


I am NOT Made of Glass

I have a new coworker who annoys the crap out of me. Oh, he means well, and I’m sure in any other context I’d think he was just fine. But within five minutes of meeting me, he called me a girl.  Great. I’m 49 and have almost 13 more years of experience on this job than he does, and he is already not taking me seriously.

At the end of shift change as I’m walking off the bridge, he insists on standing outside on the sidewalk and watching me go all the way to my car to make sure I’m safe. That’s a nice gesture, very gallant, so it took me a while to figure out why it bugged me.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having doors opened for me. I like common courtesy, evidence of respect, signs that people think I’m special and deserve to be pampered. I’d be forever grateful if someone pushed me out of the way if there’s a safe falling out of a 25 story window. And if I do see one of our crazies on the bridge, I will ask my coworker to watch, and I’ll do the same for him or her.

What I resent is the implication that I’m somehow incapable of protecting myself even on the calmest of nights, the concept that I’m so flaky and incompetent that I am unable to take reasonable precautions for my own safety. I also take exception to the fact that I’ve been walking off this bridge for nearly 13 years, past all manner of drunks and oddballs, and have done so effectively and safely, and yet this guy comes along and thinks I need him to be my hero all of a sudden. (And frankly it gives me the creeps that he’s probably staring at my butt the entire time I’m walking away.) Even when I tell him it’s not necessary, he insists on doing it anyway, as if my poor judgment needs to be vetoed for my own security.

So here’s what I plan to do when I see him this week. First, I’m going to ask him if he watches the male bridgetenders walk to their cars as well. If he says yes, then I’ll say, “Fine. It’s really not necessary, and it actually makes me really uncomfortable, but do what feels right for you.” If he says no, though, I’m going to hand him a link to this blog entry.

If you are reading this, coworker in question, it offends me that you perceive me as weaker, less capable, and by implication somehow inferior to you. If you haven’t figured out yet that I’m no shrinking violet, you’re painfully out of touch with reality. This does not make you a hero in my eyes. It makes me view you as a deluded throwback to the 1950’s, and I kind of feel sorry for you.


Is There a Moral Tipping Point?

It’s quiet here on the river tonight, and a pea soup fog is obscuring my view. It’s the perfect time for reflection. At times like this my mind tends to wander.

I was thinking about a story that a coworker told me many, many years ago that has haunted me ever since. When he was a boy, he had a paper route. One day he was delivering his papers, and he rode his bike up to this one house and threw the paper up on the porch. He was about to pedal away when he heard this moan coming from under the house. He got off his bike and looked through the slats under the porch and he saw a boy in a cage. He was dirty and smelled bad and appeared to be severely retarded. But believe it or not, that isn’t what disturbs me the most about this story. What really gets to me is how he responded when I asked him what he did next.  He said, “I rode away. I never told anyone. And I continued delivering papers to that house.” And that was that.

And from there, my mind went to another incident. I was walking through the mall with the boyfriend I had at a time and his best friend, when we came upon a booth for the National Marrow Donor Project. Now, my boyfriend and I were already registered, so we talked his friend into signing up. His friend is mixed race, so he could very well be the only match for someone who could not otherwise find one. And sure enough, he was. The reason I know this is because I got a phone call about a year later. He had put us down as his contact if the Marrow Donor Project could not find him. He had moved to another city, and we had all drifted apart. I was really excited. He was a match! He was going to save someone’s life! So we tracked him down. And he decided he couldn’t go through with it. And that was that.

And speaking of that boyfriend, the reason we broke up was that his boss stole $3500.00 dollars from me, and not only did he not do anything about it, but he continued working for him. And that was that.

Three men, nice guys all, who did things that I could never, not in a million years, ever do. I’d have told someone about the child in the cage. I’d have donated my marrow. And if my boss stole money from someone I claimed to love, I don’t care if it was the job of my dreams, I wouldn’t continue to work for him. I’d probably be fired anyway, because they would have to pry my hands off his throat.

I know. It’s easy for me to say, not having been presented with these situations myself. The reason I know how I’d respond is that I’ve always been that person who sticks her neck out, even when it’s uncomfortable. I’m the person who reports the sexually harassing professor. I’m the one who testifies. I’m the one who files grievances, sticks up for the underdog, and generally makes a pest of myself when the situation seems to call for it. It often gets me into trouble.

I look at these three men and the one thing they seem to have in common is that they’ll do the right thing nine times out of ten, but in those really defining moments, when it’s not EASY to do the right thing, they’ll fall short. So the question is, is there a moral tipping point? Is there a defining moment in your life where, if you make the wrong choice, you’ll forever have that weakness? Once morally weak, forever morally weak? Or do we get a chance at redemption? For the sake of those who do make the wrong choice, I hope that’s the case.