Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The worst insult I ever had to take

Maybe it was because I grew up in a time when young people had to have a thicker skin, but it seems today that when someone is insulted, they feel like the whole world has come to an end.

To me, it’s always pointless to demand an apology after someone says something negative about you. I mean, it’s out there now and someone just mouthing the words “I’m sorry I said that” can’t reverse the stain of what’s already been said. Lots of times, people say they’re sorry when they’re just sorry they got called to account for what they said. It’s infuriating to hear an insincere apology, but that’s just part of life.

In the early 1990s, I had to swallow a lot of insults. It was difficult, but I used the insults I sustained to motivate me toward a better course for my life.

I was a bottom-level postal worker, a mailhandler. Postal bosses loved to remind the workers that we were supposed to be the strong backs and weak minds of the Postal Service, and that our class of humanity wasn’t supposed to come up with ideas and our input wasn’t really needed despite the suggestion boxes and other fake accommodations strewn around postal installations.

Several people among both the workers and management made it clear that the very fact that you were a postal worker was an indication that you were a failure in life and as a person, and nothing you could do could change that. My open pursuit of a college degree was in a mostly quietly hostile environment. Occasionally, someone would see me studying on my lunch break, and I’d hear that person declare, “You’re wasting your time.”

My view was that it was my time to waste as I wanted, and it was better to be reading than sitting and whining about your supervisor or smoking outside the front doors, and whining, too.

Oddly, the absolute worst insult I ever took about the way I made a living came from an unlikely place: the nonprofit sector.

I had begun using my newly acquired journalism and desktop publishing skills to produce a newsletter for a group I had recently joined. “The Musical Society” presented classical chamber music in a ritzy setting at the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. There had been some controversy because some Palm Beachers didn’t want more of the riff-raff coming on the island, and had spread the false news that the group had disbanded, but it had not and the founder was vehement that it was still in operation.

I made myself know to the founder, a violinist, and eventually we got talking about what I could do. I joined the board of the group, and was responsible for its publications. Everything was going well, and I was having a wonderful time producing the newsletters.

One day, the founder heard about a program for people working in nonprofits, and asked me if I wanted to participate. It taught skills for working in such nonprofit groups and connected professionals in the community with volunteers. The founder of the musical group had suggested that I go to learn more about the local nonprofit community, though I didn’t have to be connected to anyone, of course.

I agreed, and he set up a phone call between me and the guy who was running the events.

We had a nice conversation, then the man asked me where I worked.

“The post office,” I replied.

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

“Hello?” I asked, thinking maybe we’d been disconnected.

“Oh, well, OK,” he said. “It’s just that this is for, well, a different class of worker than someone who is at the post office.”

I got a little hot under the collar, and pointed out that I was attending college and working for a musical organization, and that despite postal management’s claims to the contrary, many non-managers in the Postal Service had not only graduated from high school but also from college, but the organization preferred to promote people with less education.

I was on the way up, I told him, and made sure to let him know that I’d remember what he said to me.

The man suddenly became very apologetic, and said of course I could be in the group for the next session. I got dressed to the nines for that session, and learned a lot there.

I recounted my conversation to the founder of the music group, and he said he expected that response. “I just wanted you to see what goes on in the nonprofit realm around here,” he said. “They are very arrogant.”

A few months later, the group disbanded. The founder moved to Houston to work for the orchestra there. I felt sad. I had really enjoyed the music and the camaraderie I had with him.

But I never forgot how badly I had initially been treated by the guy organizing the nonprofit classes, and – except for my involvement in the public radio and TV station, WXEL – did not involve myself with any more nonprofits.

I suppose the lesson for today is this: Sometimes you just have to swallow an insult — and move on from it.

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October 22, 2013 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , ,

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