Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s associate editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
I work on a relatively small team within a large company. On my team is a person who was my supervisor when I first joined. When I reported to her, she was controlling and tedious simply because she had the power and authority to be. I learned this later when we became equals and she bragged to me about the petty ways that she fucked with the one person who still reported to her, such as docking their hours by the minutes that she believed they hadn't worked. She refused to recognize me as her equal, undermined me, and treated me like I still reported to her.
To make matters more irritating, she simply stopped doing the work that we were supposed to share, but continued taking credit for it. Throughout all of this, she would give me the silent treatment at random times for offenses I was not aware of. After so many of these instances — and no intervention from our manager, despite my pleas — I once gave her the silent treatment in return. Being a huge gossip, she took this opportunity to complain to anyone who would listen that she didn't understand why I would do this to her after everything she's done to "help me." Thanks to her, what little reputation I'd had within the company went to hell.
However, over the years of working together, our roles have grown far enough apart that the toe-stepping and undermining have died out. The distance has allowed us to have civil exchanges whenever we encounter each other, but I don't trust her enough to allow any kind of friendship to form. A couple of months ago she went on a week's leave for a minor medical procedure, but never returned due to a stage-3 cancer diagnosis. I feel terrible for her and her family, but I'm not sure how to approach this. She's received flowers from the team, but I'm wondering if I owe her more than that, given how long we've worked together. If I do, how do I get over myself and our shitty history to do this?
An Eternal Grudge
I try my best to approach each question with a generous and open heart. I firmly believe that to better love the world we must rise to the task of understanding each other, and that such a simple act is what makes life bearable. So, please know that all of that is operating in the background when I say: Are you shitting me with this?
This is just not a problem in the way you seem to think. “Do we owe forgiveness or reconciliation to someone in mortal peril?” is a legitimate ethical dilemma when applied to say, an abusive parent (it depends) or Henry Kissinger (absolutely not), but this is a lady who was mean to you at work. Send her a nice card or don’t! Who cares! I’m quite sure she has more pressing concerns at the moment. You know, given the cancer.
And look, I fucking love a petty grudge. I regularly check in on people who were cruel to me in junior high to confirm they are aging poorly. While this woman’s diagnosis doesn’t obviate all of the ways she chose to make your day harder when it didn’t need to be, I think it does effectively close the book on maintaining this resentment. At a minimum you need to hide it somewhere dark and secret and never speak it aloud again. Getting over yourself is probably a good idea — aside from the question of whether or not to send your cancer-stricken coworker an edible arrangement — as is being less emotionally invested in your workplace.
Have a question for A Fuck-up? Email DearFuckup@theoutline.com