Observations at Mid-Life

Prompted by the whole Spitzer debacle and the post fall from grace analysis I got to thinking about all the other Spitzer types out there and the whys and hows of their success.

Eliot Spitzer, it will come as no surprise, is not a nice man. Mona Ackerman observes:

But, to me, the most interesting aspect of the Spitzer saga is not the sexual one or even his internal contradictions. It is what it reveals about his true personality. Does he have any moral compass at all? What role does love or family play in his life? How does he relate to others? And how does all of this information help his wife and daughters?

For some reason, despite many clues to the contrary, Spitzer was mostly seen as the hard-charging, moralistic, crusader for good government. He won a landslide victory in New York because the voters believed that both he and his marriage were nearly perfect – certainly incorruptible. But alongside that portrait were troubling signs that something was seriously amiss. He was too rigid. He could explode with anger. He seemed crazed in his attempts to destroy others, and he could be cruel, bending others to his will. His clean and rigid exterior (those white shirts again, that neat tab collar) made us ignore hints that the man was troubled. It was easier to buy the image. (emphasis added).

I don’t run in Spitzer type elite circles, but I have been a lawyer long enough to have met, and worked for, my fair share of Spitzer types. What Mona Ackerman says is true – the troubling behavior is there but people ignore it in favor of the plastic image. Spitzer types treat their employees, wives, children and other underlings badly and no one says a word. Power and money are the great insulators. With power you can do and say and do pretty much anything with impunity. And since power is relative, be assured that Spitzer type arrogance can be found anywhere there is one person with perceived higher status over another.

I worked for a lawyer, one of the good old boys, who was well respected in his community. He was generous to charity and looked to all the world to be a doting father and a devoted husband. To his employees he presented a different, but no doubt more real, face. He was cruel, mean spirited and a liar. He lied all the time and he expected his employees to lie for him. He demanded perfect obeisance.

I once saw him reduce his secretary to tears. She had already stayed a hour or two late because he needed to get a document out and had left it to the very last minute. She was trying her best to finish in spite of the fact that he was standing behind her, berating her, the entire time. Frustrated, she attempted to tell him to leave her alone so she could finish. She stood up ever so slightly to speak when he pushed her back in her chair and yelled “are you going to work or complain?” Since she needed the work, she shut up and stayed – then went home crying and dreading the next morning. He made work a hellish place. I took him on after this tirade; it wasn’t pretty. It did no good. He didn’t change. I became more of a target and eventually I decided to quit.

This experience shaped my view of power in the workplace. I decided I would not yield my principles to power and abuse, ever, for any price. That is not to say I never worked in abusive situations again, because I surely did. What it meant was that there was a part of me that could never be touched or bought and a subordinate who cannot be bought, or influenced by power is dangerous, especially in the workplace.

I know plenty of successful business men and women who wield their power without regard to its effect on their employees and families. But since they give the big donations to charity, or they are in a position to make or break careers, they are handled with kid gloves and fawning respect. You certainly don’t want to cross them. If you don’t play their game, forget about getting ahead in your job, your community or in politics. Take it from someone who didn’t play that game.

The boss referred to above eventually had his fall from grace. I declined to prosecute a claim related to his fall which would have provided me additional retirement income. I didn’t have the stomach to cause pain to the innocent others affected by his behavior. He retired wealthy and never looked back. I see him and his wife very occasionally and from a distance. They look rich, but I wouldn’t say they look happy.

Each of us deals with people of power. We witness their arrogance and mistreatment of subordinates and we usually say nothing. When they fall, like the media frenzy over Eliot Spitzer, we celebrate.

So tonight as I reflect on power, position and money I want to share a few thoughts with you:

1. If you want to know the true quality of a man or woman watch how they treat the least of those who work for them.

2. If a person is rude to a waiter/waitress/busboy/valet or clerk – you are seeing their true colors.

3. People in power lie with impunity.

4. Money and power are like moral teflon; nothing sticks, but when it does, it’s a mess.

5. There are very few life and death situations in the normal workplace; if your boss creates them, he/she is abusing power.

6. If your employees don’t look happy to see you when you walk into work, chances are you are a prick or a prickette.

7. If you are working with a prick/ette and don’t speak up when s/he is abusive (because thank G-d you are not the target) you are guilty by association.

8. People in power rarely want to hear the truth about themselves.

For more on the relationship between power and intimacy read David Brooks New York Times OP-Ed The Rank-Link Imbalance.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pamajama
    Mar 17, 2008 @ 01:19:19

    I currently know an attorney who this entry reminds me of so completely. He’s married to a friend of mine, we have daughters of the same age. When I told him how wonderful his wife looked at a party he stated: “She’s second string. You should have seen what I dated before her.” He also mentioned that his long drive to work is worthwhile because his secretaries are so hot.

    They live in a multi-million dollar home and she is miserable. But the power is far too attractive to walk away from, at least for today.

    I’ve added you to my blog roll. So happy to see you have all this new content! It’s going to take me a while to read everything:)

    Reply

  2. Becky
    Mar 17, 2008 @ 16:06:49

    How you treat other people (especially when they are in a time of crisis) is very indicative of what type of person you are.

    Love this post, as per usual.

    Reply

  3. fivehusbands
    Mar 17, 2008 @ 16:20:28

    Pam and Becky – thanks for reading and commenting. As I sit here, unemployed and running out of ideas (and keeping an upbeat attitude for Son No. 1) writing is the thing that keeps me from giving up.

    Reply

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