Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Why can't people just be arseholes?

Why can’t people just be arseholes?

It’s a simple enough question. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that people are never just arseholes. If I talk to someone at work, who’s had an argument with a colleague or been on the receiving end of what they consider to be shoddy treatment, they never just come right out with it and talk about the object of their derision in suitably frank terms.

These days, a little bit of justification or apology on the other’s behalf takes place before we get to the meat of the complaint. An example:

Last week, I was talking to a friend, who’d been asked to work an unreasonably long day without any thanks or remuneration. His boss has been a constant thorn in his side for the last few years, producing countless examples of arsehole-ish behaviour.

My friend said,

“I know that Bob’s got issues with anger management and I’ve got a feeling that he might be nudging on to the spectrum somewhere, but I would’ve thought he could’ve shown a bit of appreciation for me staying late.”

Had the same friend made the same complaint ten or fifteen years ago, he would have said,

“Bob’s a right fucking arsehole.”

I know that modern speech and workplace sensibilities demand that we adopt a more level and forgiving approach when dealing with people, but I do hanker somewhat for the old times, when people could be a little more blunt when expressing their feelings.

In those days there used to be a sliding scale of abusive terms to be used when describing your boss, depending on the severity of his or her transgression.

Bell end

All of these words could receive additional emphasis by being preceded by the word ‘fucking’ or followed by a slammed door or finger jab towards the office.

Nor would these insults square with an initial attempt at mitigation.

“I realise that Michael is recently divorced and is having real trouble coming to terms with the separation, but he’s a fucking twat.”

It just doesn’t work. It’s all or nothing.

I suppose that I should be really happy that this sort of thing doesn’t really go on any more, but I sort of miss it. The brutal honesty was, in its way, quite refreshing, leaving no room for ambiguity or confusion.

When I was 19, I was helping to clean up on the camp at which I was stationed. This onerous task, known as ‘area cleaning’, was a job that all the single, low ranking soldiers had to do. We’d skirt around the camp before first parade, picking up pizza boxes and any other litter that had accumulated overnight. We’d have a Corporal wandering behind us, making sure we didn’t run off and go back to bed.

The Corporal that morning was a huge bloke from Yorkshire, who had to turn sideways to get through doors. One of the lads walking alongside me, suddenly thought he was living in a democracy and decided to complain that, as a non-smoker, he shouldn’t have to pick up fag butts. The Corporal’s reply was brief and to the point, but carried all the information necessary to resolve the situation,

“Get ‘em picked up, Trotsky, or I’ll fuckin’ flatten you.”

I like the swearing, but love the attempt to imply that a left wing coup might be taking place on an Aldershot army camp, because of a reluctance to put a B and H cork in the bin.

Today, I fear the conversation would be very different.

“Why should I have to pick up fag butts? I’m a non-smoker.”

“Hmmm, it’s an interesting point you make. I’d really like to ensure that our working areas are litter free but understand your concern. I’m pretty certain that once the cigarette is extinguished, its ability to transmit carcinogens is completely removed, but there are legitimate health and safety issues here. Leave it where it is and I’ll take it up with the relevant stakeholder. I may even organise a meeting that involves powerpoint and/or a flipchart.”

“Thanks, Corporal. I think you’ve handled the situation with admirable tact and consideration. But can you explain why you’ve stuffed me into the bin?”

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