Email circa 2031: My dear sons, beware “The Toxic 12” – #11 The “Personals”

woman in gray tank top

Hi boys

Surprise Surprise! I’m back with my next email sooner than expected.

Could be some kind of momentum built up from my last email. Also, I’m motivated by the fact that this series on “The Toxic 12” is almost at an end, so I’m definitely looking forward to finally wrapping it up.

Bet you are too.

If you recall my last email, I mentioned there were two pretty serious “liars” in the working world. The first was Toxic #10 “The Professionals” which I spoke of, and the second is the one I’m going to talk about today.

I’m gonna share here about Toxic #11 or what I call “The Personals”. This one’s closely linked to the previous one, and pretty straightforward to understand. Sadly, I’ve often wished they weren’t so widespread, given the damage such folks cause.

False: “It’s Not Personal”

In the classic 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hank’s character Joe Fox’s mega bookstore business “Fox Books” elbowed out the smaller “Shop-Around-The-Corner” children’s bookstore ran by Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly.

There’s an unforgettable scene in the movie that really nails this second of my two corporate liars for me.

In it, Joe pays a visit to Kathleen’s apartment to apologise. He reminded her that it was strictly business that led to her shop losing customers to his, forcing her to shut down her decease mom’s store. He ended his plea by saying that what happened was just the natural outcome of commercial rivalry, and she shouldn’t “take it personally”.

At that, Kathleen replied “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m so sick of that! All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s wrong with being personal? Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin with being personal.”

Caught that last line?

That aptly sums up what most people know deep down but avoid showing to clients, colleagues and supervisors; just about anyone really. All for fear of being seen as weak, immature or incapable of taking on the challenges of life in the so-called objective world of work.

True: “It matters”

woman carrying a baby
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One of the things I really hope I’ve inculcated in you boys over the years is to realise that many things in life are interconnected.

From the time you were born, your lives mattered to your mom and me. Everything that you thought, said or did mattered, and still does. We love to hear your opinions, watch you grow in understanding, and be your cheerleaders as you chase down your goals and dreams.

And when these goals and dreams crush you, and they often do, we were as affected as you were. You mattered to us, so everything that happened to you, matters.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because we’re not the only people on this planet.

We live in an interconnected world, made more so thanks to the Internet. So by extension, every decision acted out will have an impact on everything within an X-mile radius, whether we like it or not.

It’s how this world’s wired.

So long as there’s a confluence of people, the potential for happiness and hurt will always be there. Success and sadness will come; unless you’re made of wood, no one can claim immunity from these blows life inflicts every now and then.

Of course naysayers would scoff at your dear old dad. They will say that I’m over-feeling things and that the working world has no space or time for “soft” talk like that. Work is just work. At the end of the day, pack it up, go home and forget about it.

Right.

To them I’ll say: “You can keep playing Joe Fox and live in that bubble of denial. But the truth is deep down we’re all Kathleen Kelly, and it all matters. Unless you’re a great actor like Tom Hanks or a zombie from World War Z!”

What’s wrong with admitting we’re flesh and blood?

person getting his blood check
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For if nothing else, feelings and emotions are what differentiates humans from all other living things on earth. In fact, watch enough Animal Planet and chances are good you’ll see that even beasts can mourn or feel neglected.

That’s what it means to be flesh ‘n’ blood. It’s what Kathleen was talking about when she says whatever else anything is, it ought to begin with being personal.

While it can certainly sound ‘noble’ and even ‘magnanimous’ to say we can “compartmentalise”; that “work is work”; ” business is business”. That none of it is personal.

The reality is that it very much is.

To tell someone “don’t take it personally; it was just a job, or a task or a project or assignment or thing” (choose your entry point), that’s just escapism. An excuse to sweep the hurt and pain under the carpet and assume the problem’s solved. To avoid the hard stuff of walking with a wounded fellow man.

Toxic #11 “The Personals” perpetuate this lie daily with deft and aplomb, relegating feelings of victims into the shadows and backstage of life. These “suits” will tell you to toughen up, grow a mammoth’s hide and keep moving. They say this because it just saves time and keeps the corporate cogs and wheels a-humming. It’s just too much work for them to sit with someone through a loss, whether it’s a work contract gone belly-up or a promotion missed.

The milder versions of Toxic #11 are just clueless, mimicking a mantra they were taught when first they joined the workforce. Never grasping the import of their words and actions, merely mouthing empty to quickly move past any awkward confrontations and continue with the work at hand. Carbon copies of the “role models” they had before.

The “hardcore” versions however are the ones you need to beware of.

They don’t just spew that lie “it’s not personal” to move on. They mean to crush you, make you look small and totally inept. In so doing, they achieve a kind of contrast-gaining, making themselves look superior and you inferior.

Sadly, these folks have long internalised this lie and believed it’s their ticket to staying on top of the corporate game.

Pity them, but don’t be them. They’ve buried their humanity so far down, not even Indiana Jones could excavate them out. (You remember those Indy movies I hope.)

Feeling what we feel and not being afraid to show them. That’s how we stay rooted to our God-given humanity. Keep it raw and real, not because you want the spotlight, or that you’re a crybaby. Do it because that’s what will build caring communities. Even cold-blooded, hardened entrepreneurs would be hard pressed to pretend they can do things alone, without any network or support.

So boys, while I can’t shield you from Toxic #11 folks, I hope I’ve empowered you here to recognise them and not cede ground to their toxic lies about how those who take things personal are meek and can’t “cut it” in the real world.

Instead, look them in the eye and tell them it’s the meek who will “inherit the earth“! (Matthew 5:5)

Go forth boys, and claim this “inheritance”! Be vulnerable, raw and real.

It’s how we’re all wired.

Ok guys. I’m done for now. Look out for my final email on this Toxic series soon.

Luv ya to the ends of the moon and back!

Daddy Do First

One thought on “Email circa 2031: My dear sons, beware “The Toxic 12” – #11 The “Personals”

  1. This is just remarkable. So much insight. Thanks for this admonition – may I heed and apply to my generations behind me.

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