As I am dying, I promise to hate you
When Norah Ephron passed away earlier this month many who knew her reported that she was smiling and joking right up until the end. I understood that for those who loved her it was important to paint a picture of a bright, positive individual, even in times of peril and uncertainty. I have no doubt that these characterizations of Ephron’s last days are true.
It did get me thinking about the alternative though. I don’t think that I would be as happy if I knew that I only had a few days to live. Perhaps because Ephron received her diagnosis six years prior, she had come to terms with the end of her life. Still, that doesn’t negate the possibility that she was suffering from great physical pain, like most people with cancer experience.
It appeared to me that if she had been angry, and screaming on her deathbed, that that would have somehow diminished her memory. Grace under pressure, and silently suffering is revered, while being vocal and expressively upset, angry and sad, is not.
Why? What’s so wrong with being grateful and appreciative of the life we’ve had, while simultaneously expressing frustration, anger and fear about it ending? To me, there is nothing negative about being emotive about stressful life experiences. I think it’s more refreshing, and honest, but we’re only respected if we choose the option that makes other people comfortable, and that is the role of a smiling person.
Why do we demand of people that they be fake?
Politicians offer the greatest example of how our collective standards effect an individual, and therefore an entire society. Specifically in places like the United States. Politicians are preened and bred to have the ‘perfect life.’ They must be married, preferably only once, and have children. They must have no prior indiscretions, which is impossible, and they must smile and know everybody’s names. Their desire to be embraced, and liked, is more important to them, and to us, than being authentic. We demand from them perfection, but in doing so force them to be inauthentic. We rarely see the irony.
I’ve noticed that we’re only comfortable with people if they fit into categories, archetypes, and therefore characters that are familiar and safe. It’s not just politicians who we demand this of, but of our neighbours, colleagues and relatives.
Look at how job interviews are conducted. They are set up in such a fashion that are inane, impractical and false. Is it no wonder that narcissists are proven to be very good at them? How about psychopaths? Research has shown that those who can fake it, or demonstrate little human emotion, move ahead.
I’ll end with a story that may be familiar to some of my readers but excellently illustrates my point. About three years ago I interviewed for a public relations job at Rogers Telecommunications on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto. I arrived promptly, extensively prepared answers to the stock questions I knew I was going to be asked and was jovial enough to convey some confidence that calmed my nerves.
My potential future employer was 15 minutes late, boasted about how ‘busy’ she was, and consistently checked her Blackberry throughout my interview.
Frustrated, I stopped her, and without hesitation asked, “Excuse me, if I arrived 15 minutes late for this interview, and routinely checked my mobile telephone, would you be considering me for this position?”
Her reply was obvious, “No.” She stuttered, looked visibly frazzled.
I retorted, “Then why should I consider you as my future employer if you demonstrate the same disrespect that you would not accept from me?” I thanked her for her time, and ended the interview. She was shocked. As she was seeing me to the front door, I muttered to myself, “You’re better than this job.”
Many people tell me that this is not a story I should be proud of, because conventional wisdom says that the employer holds all the cards, and as job seekers, we should do whatever it takes, put up with the most abhorrent behaviour, for a job offer. Unfortunately for them, that isn’t who I am. And I prefer my way, over the alternative.
So on my deathbed, I’m probably going to curse the world. Because I damn well feel like it.