I've got your back

Jul 24 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

There was an article about goddesses in the New Yorker last week. Darwin spare us, but not just goddesses, but Mischievous Goddess Parties for little girls with mothers who have more money than sense. Getting beyond the entitlement, I agree that anything that gives little girls power and authority and role models is probably a Good Thing. There is a quote from the article (sorry, can't find a link) from a mother after one of the parties:

I don't think she's latched on to the goddess part yet, but she likes the magic. All kids need to believe in something that's out there to help them.

Kids? Us Grups, too. (Points for identifying classical reference). I remember, clearly and painfully, a time when I really needed the support of my department chair. The old one. The chair from hell. One of the main reasons I left old-MRU. I was "leadership". I had a portfolio and people I needed to support. I had a problem. The problem had to do with getting proposals in to NIH in a timely fashion. In fact, just getting them done in time, without putting an extra-month burden on junior faculty. I was getting lots and lots of push-back from the business people in the department. Really, I was being road-blocked at every turn, and was doing clerical work myself to get the proposals done. Senior vice-chairs should not be doing clerical work.  I should have been spending that time reading & reviewing & editing proposals.  I spent months trying to solve this on my own. I told the chair what I was doing, and got nods of approval, and lots of "atta girl"s. But it didn't work. In the end, I went and pleaded with him. Laid out what wasn't working, why it was problem. How other departments solved this problem, all of which cost money and personnel. And that fucker turned to me and said something like "I have no respect for people who can't solve their own problems". And that was the end of the conversation about this problem. There were more Bad Things between us that happened after this. The problem in submitting proposals went on, with lots of consequences. But the consequences didn't get tied to the problem, and eventually, people just did their own proposals, and frequently, left the department.

What has stayed with me, years and continents later, was asking for help and being so perfunctorily turned down. Painfully turned down. Not acknowledged as working on something that I couldn't solve. Not getting the help I needed to do the job. Everyone wants to think there is someone out there who will help. As one gets older, one becomes more realistic about who or what is out there. It's one of the source of religions and belief in "higher powers". This can be a very comforting source of support, just as belief in an after-life is an anodyne to the slings and arrows of a less than satisfying life in the here and now.

But for those of us who chose to live in the here and now, or at least do not expect help from beyond whilst wrestling with the personal and professional villains, we tend to look to our flesh and blood allies. Ally is a word that has been both lauded and abused within other contexts of late. It has come to carry baggage. But here, I mean it in the most prosaic, unembroidered form. An ally is someone who should have your damn back.

This is the flip side of what do you own? (which ties back to the chair from hell, who didn't know what it means to be an ally). This is the real circle of life, the web of helping people and having others help you. Today's musical soundtrack for this are the symphonies of Sibelius, in particular a motif in the first movement of the 5th symphony. I hear my friends and allies singing to me.

One response so far

  • Karen Phillippi says:

    In the end, you always know who has your back, and who will stick the knife in. I was going to write a lot of rhetoric about people feeling threatened by 1. women 2. anyone perceived as smart 3. anyone period. But the world has a lot f***ing mean people in it. Most of the women our age were raised to not raise hell and just be nice and ladylike, so men of that age also have that expectation.

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