Casaubon's Book

Let us imagine that you are MacGyver, that 1980s tv guy who can build an atomic bomb out of gum and duct tape. You are facing a world-shattering crisis. You have a pile of scrap materials out of which you must build a high speed vehicle to effect your escape from this crisis, which will certainly involve you outracing a dramatic explosion. There are wheels, gears, sticks and the all-important duct tape. There’s also a big claw-footed bathtub. Now, when your need is for lightness and speed, do you attach the bathtub, just because you’ve got one lying around?

This analogy was used to me once by someone who pointed out that in most human organizational structures, one would attach the bathtub, simply because it was there. That is, most organizations, particularly volunteer organizations but paid ones as well, have people who do not necessarily add to the efficiency, function or grace of the thing being created. The person who described this to me ended – “Some people are bathtubs. Success is working around them, or better yet, dumping them off the thing entirely.”

Now there is some real truth to this. To give you an example, I have a bathtub in my life. Her name is not Janice, but that’s what we’ll call her. She’s an older woman with whom I work on a committee (I will not give any identifying details here). I admit, I don’t like Janice – and I’ve tried to like her. I’m generally not terribly judgemental, and I like most people, but Janice pushes my limits. She’s one of those people who has very little self-awareness, and is fundamentally self-centered. She’d demanding, pushy and rude. She is very proprietary about what she does, but she does it badly, and always causes conflict with other people – including the people who clean up the mistakes she makes, and who come to resent it. There’s always an excuse for why she couldn’t get X or Y thing done, and often she blames someone else. She tends to ramble and leaves long, incoherent telephone messages – often several a day. She also refused to use email, so she requires that everyone then repeat everything sent electronically to her over the phone.

I have no choice but to work with Janice – she’s been a member of the group I work on far longer than I have, and while no one really likes working with her, the only way to get rid of her would be to be blantantly unkind. I try to minimize the opportunity for her to make mistakes, and I admit to trying to avoid her. I have so far been very successful at hiding my dislike of her – so much that she thinks we’re close and tells me more personal details than I really want to know. I wish she didn’t.

Janice sounds like a total loss, right? Maybe my friend’s theory of bathtubs has some truth. It is certainly the case that a lot of time and energy is wasted navigating Janice’s needs, and that we could do things more efficiently without her. But before we abandon Janice entirely, let’s take another look.

Here are some things I also know about Janice. I know that she’s kind – one night when I was waiting to be picked up, she insisted I come back to her house and drink lemonade with her, instead of waiting outside in the heat. I know she’s intelligent – in her loud, pushy voice she sometimes does point out real problems none of the rest of us have thought of. I know that she’s generous with her time – despite a full time job and some health problems, Janice puts in far more hours at the organization I’m working with than I ever have. I know that she gives unstintingly to others – when a mutual friend of ours was dying, I sat at his bedside a few times to give his wife space to meet her needs. Janice did it three days a week. She did the couple’s grocery shopping, returned their library books, cooked them dinner. I know she’s forgiving – she always forgives me and makes excuses when we do things by email and she can’t take part. I have no doubt that if I were sick or in need, Janice would sit by my bedside, watch my children, bring me dinner. I have no doubt that if I were sick or in need I’d wish someone I liked better were being nice to me – but Janice would be *THERE.*

I know that Janice doesn’t seem to grasp how to have a conversation or understand the conventions of human relationships – my guess is that in another era, Janice might have been diagnosed with Aspergers or some other disability. She doesn’t have a lot of friends, she isn’t married, she’s very much alone – except for the community organizations that she is a part of, that mean a lot to her. Janice has a space in our society, a social world, work to do because a whole group of people mostly overlook her limits. It is hard work this overlooking sometimes. Not everyone does it well. I have a child who will probably only have a place in the world because people overlook his disabilities and limits – my autistic son may contribute far less than Janice ever will. Can I do less? Is it so very hard to pretend not to see Janice’s weak spots, to look for her strengths?

Janice is always willing to do the hard, daily work of this organization – the errands, the mailings, the cleaning up, always there for every event, always willing to help, always wanting to be a part. Even though I know I’m not the only person who finds her difficult, I am grateful that my organization makes a place for Janice and the other bathtubs – I’m grateful because she does do some work well. I’m grateful because she’s a reminder to me of what communities are for – they are not escape vehicles, they are not to be designed for maximum efficiency. Instead, they are designed take in all the pieces. They are not tools to enable running away – they are tools for being here.

I’m a bathtub too, you see. The organizational group that Janice is a part of is designed to put on an event. I find it very difficult to get there for meetings, so I’m constantly missing meetings, or finding it hard to schedule them at all. Everyone else often has to arrange their lives around my children, my farm and my work schedule. They could get everything done a lot faster without me. No one has ever indicated that this was true, even though I know it to be so. Politely, gently, all those people pretend that my scheduling limitations, my talking too much some times, my mistakes aren’t there too. They pretend I’m not a bathtub, even when I am. Can I do less?

It would be easy to take my friend’s approach to the terrible challenges that face all of us – to say that what is most needed is the greatest efficiency and the greatest effectiveness. Indeed, I’ve heard people say that – I’ve heard people suggest that in an era of limits on resources and wealth, we will be less compassionate, less welcoming, that we will have to jettison some baggage – and that people are baggage.

I understand the frustration of working around difficult people. I know that some bathtubs are far more obnoxious, demanding, destructive and unkind than Janice – Janice has virtues that are evident, even if she’s a pain sometimes. But what about the really awful people? There are people who are actively cruel and vicious who can’t be part of communities. That said, however, I would always be cautious of one person or one group making that judgement – it is easy to dismiss others as irredeemable, particularly when it seems terribly urgent that other needs be met. And yet, I have stood with a beloved friend who told me how awful, two faced, cruel and petty someone else was – a friend too, who I liked and admired, and in whom I had seen none of these faults. Judgement is easy – too easy.

I do not mean to imply that inclusion is easy – the work I do with Janice is not life or death, and even then I find it frustrating to make busy work for her, or to have someone prepared to take over what she does badly when she inevitably re-emerges with excuses. I find it maddening to listen to others complain about her – and legitimately. How much harder would this be when deeper things are at stake?

At the same time, the world is full of bathtubs – all of us are bathtubs at times, who cannot contribute adequately, who are so caught up in our own petty limitations that we can’t see how we are failing others. We talk too much, we talk too little, we judge too harshly, we argue too much, we get caught up in our worldviews and can’t see outside, we are impatient, small, angry, false at times. Is there really anyone out there who has never committed at least a few of these sins in a group?

Gaining the whole world, saving the whole world is not worth the cost of one’s soul. If your community has no place for the difficult, maddening, awful, irritating, frustrating people within it, the weak ones, the troubled ones, the mentally ill, the physically ill, the demanding, the ones who always bring up the same dumb point, the ones who make you want to scream when they talk – if it has no place for the real, actual people in it, we are failing. Community is community – it is all the people who show up, all the people who are present, all the people who are simply there – the ones you like, the ones you don’t like and all the ones in between. If you find yourself casting them off because you are too busy saving the world, you have to be reminded what, exactly, it is you are saving.

As I keep saying, this doesn’t make it easy – to keep Janice in the group, to keep pretending we all like her requires that essentially I make a non-essential structure for her, have backups for everything she does, and waste a whole lot of time listening to her complain and others complain about her. I may have to do unpleasant things like tell Janice she can’t keep doing something, or step in when things get heated. Frankly, I can think of plenty of things I’d rather do. But what’s the other choice – I could let Janice know she’s unappealing, unpleasant and destructive, that we don’t want or like her. That frankly would hurt Janice a lot worse than it hurts me to work around her. Where do people with no social skills and support system go when the system casts them off? Unfortunately, I think we know – and it isn’t anywhere good.

I do not have to like Janice. I do not have to like the other bathtubs in my life – Al, the guy with the quick temper and the paranoia, given to insult; Gabrielle, who whines, Leo who says he will and never does. Liking is not the issue – inclusion is. It is a logic problem – not to build the most efficient, perfect escape vehicle, but instead, to build something useful using all the pieces I have been given, an edifice sturdy enough to withstand the blast, complete enough to leave no one behind.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 tmm
    April 14, 2011

    One word that describes “Janice” better than bathtub…. Martyr. Even worse, self induced Martyr, the worst kind.

    This is the person that does everything expected of a ‘nice’ person, and makes sure you know it….

    No answer on how to handle the situation, but I sympathize.

  2. #2 Greenpa
    April 14, 2011

    Good, very thoughtful; but I don’t think it’s a finished problem. One aspect that worries me greatly; the competition between groups. Say your group, bathtub inclusive, comes into critical competition with a nasty group that eliminates all bathtubs quickly. They are more efficient- therefore they compete for resources much more successfully than you do.

    This is non-trivial; I would strongly suggest this is already going on, and a major societal problem. Just say “Goldman Sachs” to yourself, and think about it.

    They, and groups like them, are viciously non-inclusive, in fact priding themselves on their vicious nature; paying bonuses to the most heartless. They are gathering all the resources the world needs into their private pockets, and they do not want to share, ever.

    I think this is an ancient dilemma- historically and across cultures, the non-inclusive groups outcompete the compassionate and inclusive ones; until the balance of resources (eg wealth) leads to wars of revolution and eradication. After which; we do it again.

    How can we break that cycle? One suggestion that occurs to me is; perhaps we truly can’t afford the bathtubs. Another possibility- found a society where non-sharing is not tolerated, at all.

    Both of those are in dire conflict with all present practices and beliefs. Nothing easy here.

  3. #3 Beth Tilston
    April 14, 2011

    Oh yes, I’ve had this experience. Except that our bathtub – out of her desire to do good – has acted as a catalyst which has destroyed the whole group. I think this happens a lot with voluntary organisations who, in their desire to be inclusive, don’t have any kind of code of behaviour. Our bathtub used to send emails criticising people’s personalities and their relationships with their partners. She wasn’t a bad person but she had no social skills and didn’t really understand where boundaries lay. She really really wanted to forward our campaign and rode roughshod over people who disagreed with her. Now I would never get involved with any organisation that didn’t have some method for jettisoning the bathtub when they broke the rules. I feel burnt by the whole experience…

  4. #4 Sharon Astyk
    April 14, 2011

    I like to think that in many cases, there are ways other than jettisoning to handle bathtubs. In our case, it is considerably more work to keep the bathtub in, but there are ways to keep her damage limited. This is not fun – but again, where would she go? It is one thing to jettison someone who has lots of options. Another to jettison someone who would be losing their whole social support. I would think that codes of behavior might be easier than casting people off, but yes, I know what you mean.

    Greenpa, I agree with you – although my observation is that Goldman Sachs contains quite a number of bathtubs, actually ;-). But yes, that’s at least partly true.

    Sharon

  5. #5 Sandy
    April 14, 2011

    Thank you for this post. My family recently moved and my mother in law is now living with us in a very small trailer, instead of next door to us in her own house. This is temporary, we will be buying 2 mobile homes to put on our family property near each other. Most of the time, she strikes me as a bathtub. I suddenly have an entire cabinet full of processed junk food (do we really need 12 boxes of assorted snack cakes, 4 kinds of cookies, and 40 Jello pudding cups?). I am trying to store real food and I have no space! She has a very annoying and destructive puppy that she is not training, and she tends to say things that annoy my husband. She also spoils our son, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and needs consistent discipline to work on his behavioral issues, and constantly buys him cheap toys made in China and Happy Meals and other junk food.
    BUT! She volunteers on call 6 days a week at the local rape crisis center (it’s downright scary how often she gets called out to counsel a victim), she washes the dishes (a job I hate), and she picks my son up from school almost every day and watches him whenever we ask. She is also attending college online to become a psychologist and is doing quite well. She always makes sure there’s a cake if it’s someone’s birthday, and she’s always there for emotional support when needed. She also tells me how good the food is that I cook, even when her son won’t even try it.
    I am restless here, waiting for our new homes to be ready. I am sure she feels the loss of autonomy, as well, but she hasn’t complained. Thank you for posting this story and reminding me to be thankful for my mother in law, even if she seems like a bathtub at times. I guess we all are, sometimes.

  6. #6 ET
    April 14, 2011

    Our tendency to be so sure of who is making a worthwhile contribution and who isn’t, along with our certainty that these roles will never change is scary.

    Any of us can be on either side of need, giving and dependency in an instant.

    Thanks for thoughtful post!

  7. #7 mad the swine
    April 14, 2011

    As I keep saying, this doesn’t make it easy – to keep Janice in the group, to keep pretending we all like her requires that essentially I make a non-essential structure for her, have backups for everything she does, and waste a whole lot of time listening to her complain and others complain about her. I may have to do unpleasant things like tell Janice she can’t keep doing something, or step in when things get heated. Frankly, I can think of plenty of things I’d rather do. But what’s the other choice – I could let Janice know she’s unappealing, unpleasant and destructive, that we don’t want or like her. That frankly would hurt Janice a lot worse than it hurts me to work around her. Where do people with no social skills and support system go when the system casts them off? Unfortunately, I think we know – and it isn’t anywhere good.

    I think this is where a little dose of Atlas Shrugged would come in handy.

    A lot of people – especially women – are raised and socialized to think that their needs and their feelings are less important than the needs and feelings of the people around them. As loathsome as Ayn Rand’s philosophy can be, there is an important feminist core to it. Selfishness can be a virtue, because your happiness is just as important as everyone else’s is. Martyrdom is not a virtue. You don’t have to, and should not be expected to, suffer for the sake of other people.

    Which is not to say that pure Objectivist selfishness isn’t grotesquely anti-social. Taken to an extreme, it certainly is. But you have the right – you have, even, a responsibility to yourself – to refuse to take on burdens, to refuse to injure yourself in the name of helping other people, even if other people are hurt by your refusal to help.

    Also, in your example? Kicking Janice out of your group will not remove her from “the system”. The choice is not between putting up with her and having her starve on the street. There are places where bathtubs belong (eg, the bathroom). Letting Janice stay in a place where she’s not appreciated and she can’t contribute, instead of letting her go to find a place where she can contribute, does no one any favors.

  8. #8 NM
    April 14, 2011

    Good thoughts, good reminder. My uninformed theory is that this may have been easier when people lived together in large extended families, complete with employees, servants, what-have-you; they grew up just living with everyone sometimes being a pain in the ass, whereas we are very isolated and become more so as adults, and learn to treasure our solitude, and control. Makes the idea of letting someone else invade your time and space seem just about unbearable, rather than a routine fact of life. I also find that years of working fulltime with a lot of evenings included, has had a really unfortunate effect on my patience; I hear myself internally yelling, DAMMIT, I DON’T HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO YOU RAMBLE, OR I WON’T HAVE TIME TO SLEEP TONIGHT!, and having to remind myself to breathe and remember why I’m there in the first place. And to remember that if I suck out all the joy in name of convenience, our group’s reason for being could end. This is surprisingly difficult. Socialization comes to seem like an onerous duty. One reason I’d like to remove myself from that (employee) world; I don’t much care for those effects on me, and I suspect that is true of many people, that the constant pressure of feeling out of time, of needing to push for maximum efficiency, can be really bad for you, and for your values. A friend whose husband was laid off said they both were stunned to discover how much it improved their marriage. Relieved of stress he didn’t realize he was feeling, he became a much easier person to be around. I wonder how many of us, relieved of that type of pressure, might suddenly feel far more tolerant.

  9. #9 theshortearedowl
    April 14, 2011

    Great post. I was definitely like your friend when I was younger – very intolerant of people who didn’t pick things up quickly, who didn’t want to try a better (my) way of doing things… We can all be bathtubs sometimes.

    And yes – where would someone like Janice be without this organisation, some purpose in her life? If the bathtub has to come with you, it is better that you make it part of the cart rather than try to drag it behind.

  10. #10 Jennifer
    April 14, 2011

    Very interesting post, gave me some space for thinking more carefully about how I contribute (or don’t) to society in general.

    But the real reason I came to comment:

    In my reader feed, the accompanying Google Ad was for a jet-style bathtub company! It made me laugh and I thought you would appreciate the humour as well.

  11. #11 Sharon Astyk
    April 14, 2011

    Jennifer, that’s great!

    Mad, I’m going to say that whenever the answer to a problem is Ayn Rand, that answer is wrong – just in general principle
    ;-). I do take your point, but I think it is a matter of scale – how badly hurt am I by putting up with an annoying person. How badly hurt would someone who relies on an organization for their basic social supports be hurt by being removed from something they care a lot about?

    Sharon

  12. #12 Susan in NJ
    April 14, 2011

    There was an interesting article a couple weeks ago in – I think – the NYT about a japanese village’s efforts to regroup and continue after the tsunami/quake. Mr. Abo who became the village’s “natural” headman said that there were a few people who didn’t want to help but he gave them positions of authority and then they were onboard. I thought this was a very interesting cultural approach. Also Abo noted that one aspect of the village’s natural organization apparently was that villagers worked together in normal times to prepare for various traditional religious festivals.
    Bathtubs who wear everybody out by complaining or – not using the internet – or not draining properly (just to stay in metaphor(?)) — may in the worst of times when there is no internet and the trivial stuff is no longer worth complaining about be just what the village needs – to sit with the sick, or wash the pots. Keeping them part of the group in less trying time could be just part of be prepared in a community.
    And who doesn’t need a Head Supervisor of Baths?

  13. #13 Erica
    April 14, 2011

    I love this post, and it came at the perfect time. I will have to hang it up somewhere, as I’m sure I will need the reminder more than once.

    I think it’s clear that some in our society are already becoming more comfortable with the idea of jettisoning those who inconvenience us, or reduce our efficiency in some way. I encountered this on a small scale just a few days ago in a Facebook discussion about peanut allergies. A student at an acquaintance’s child’s elementary school had a deathly allergy to peanuts, even being near peanuts, so the school had banned peanuts in home-packed lunches and snacks in an effort to keep this child safe. My acquaintance was outraged that the school would do this. It was just too “socialist” for him. After all, that one child was less than 1% of the school population – why should everyone else have to modify their behavior for that one child? I thought the attitude was more than a bit scary, and the fact that basic human decency and caring is so often being redefined as “socialism” scares me even more.

  14. #14 stripey_cat
    April 14, 2011

    Hmm. I think a lot of the problem (and I’ve observed it myself several times) is that it’s culturally very difficult for the bathtubs to admit that there’s a role that they’re not very good at, especially if it’s a culturally-privileged role like administration and organisation. If people could only admit to themselves and to others “I suck at a, and am good at b, so I’ll do as much b as I can and try to keep out of a”, they’d be both happier and more efficient.

  15. #15 MaleJanice
    April 14, 2011

    You know, when working with the bathtubs of the world, it does help to have read Terry Pratchett. There’s a reason his villains are often the “efficiency experts” who are trying to make everything run better.

    Heck, I’ve been a Janice quite a few times. I’ve dealt with any number of Janices too.

    Then I look at someone like Bernie Madoff, or all those bank execs responsible for the mortgage bubble, who evidently might get their massive tax break extended indefinitely. They’re all very efficient, very judgmental, very quick to chuck the bathtub off.

    Personally, I’d rather get rid of them right now. Janice costs a few hours of mild annoyance. These self-made Big Men destroy lives, cities, and futures. All in the name of being more efficient in making money.

    There’s a scale to these things after all.

  16. #16 Brian Morton
    April 14, 2011

    two comments
    1) I am reminded of Orlov’s point that Soviet organizations that weathered their collapse well were not the most efficient or the one’s that focused on “core-competency” the most, but the one’s that where most resilient, or where their core competency WAS on survival through hard times. There is an inherent trade-off between efficiency and resilience.

    2) Of the many different organizations I’ve been involved with some are noticeably more “bathtub” heavy than others. But interestingly, the more “efficient” organizations seem more businessy, professional and generate LESS long term loyalty. People work hard in them for a while, and then move on easily when they have incentive to. The more “bathtubby” organizations that take on many kinds of people including ones that are kinda dysfunctional within the context, also seem to involve tighter bonds of loyalty. I don’t know how the causation/correlation works. Maybe people only put up with the bathtubby organizations because of the greater loyalty, or maybe the social dynamics of genuine attempt at inclusion MAKE the social dynamic more loyalty-based, and less “mercenary.” Even organizations that are in work and essence completely charitable FEEL kinda “mercenary” when they focus too much on efficiency (or sometimes they feel drama-filled with constant struggles over the best ways to do things). But organizations at the opposite end of the spectrum have an odd “folksy” kind of feel to them too, that has some special odd draw to it that I can’t put my finger quite on and that I think you haven’t quite either, but that makes people want to fight for them more doggedly, despite or perhaps even because of their pokey ponderousness. Anyway, that’s my experience, have you folk noticed that? Our community has one particular bathtub that has drifted into several organizations I’ve been involved with over the years, and it is interesting to see which ones push him out quickly, which tolerate him for a long time, and which become so dysfunctional that they collapse out from under him and force him to look for other organizations.

  17. #17 Anna
    April 14, 2011

    I think there’s a third option for dealing with bathtubs other than jettisoning or pretending they’re great the way they are. How about mentoring them to become more useful members of the group?

    When I got to college, I was pretty socially inept and fell in with a group of similarly inept bathtubs. The group was oddly inclusive, accepting even really bad bathtubs who would explode in rage at random intervals or drum relentlessly on the furniture all day. Luckily, our social group also had some upperclassmen who had learned from previous generations of upperclassmen how to use some basic social graces. Over the course of four years, I discarded my bathtubdom and even helped some youngsters discard their own. (To be fair, I have to admit that some of the worst cases are still bathtubs, but maybe slightly less so?)

    That said, I know that it’s tougher when you’re fully formed adults, and especially when the bathtub is in your family or in a group you feel obliged to continue with.

  18. #18 Sarah R
    April 14, 2011

    Thank you, Sharon, for a really wonderful post. It made me rethink the bathtubs in my own communities. I have observed over many years that while there are people who can be very, very difficult to live with, they usually have some skills that when push comes to shove, the community will struggle to do without.

    There is a point, however, at which I think that communities have to make hard decisions about such people. I recently, with great reluctance, decided that there was no place in my life for someone who was being abusive. It was a very difficult decision, particularly after 20 years of friendship, and I was one of the very last people in my community to make it. I think that this person’s skills are a significant loss, and I know that she is hurt and does not understand why people have cut her off, despite people explaining it in no uncertain terms. Ultimately, however, I think that for a community to be viable, someone cannot be allowed to continue to damage others in it.

  19. #19 nigel
    April 15, 2011

    Thank you for an excellent thought provoking post, and a gentle reminder that we are all in this together.

  20. #20 ccm989@aol.com
    April 15, 2011

    If the difficulty is a handicap, obviously you would have to work with them because its not their fault. But if its just a nasty personality problem, fire them. It ruins morale of any business place to have nasty people venting all day. And in tough economic times, cheerful natures are a reminder not to give up because better days are ahead.

  21. #21 Melissa
    April 15, 2011

    I’m so glad that you’re addressing some of the more difficult challenges in working with a volunteer group. I’ve had to deal with bathtubs of various sorts before, and I’m sure I will again. The thing is, I’ve found that even though it’s challenging and frustrating, it’s far worse to ostracize people because they’ve got problems or otherwise don’t fit in.

    I do however believe that just putting up with destructive behavior gets to a point where it is unbearable. I have found that by taking a moment away from the group to address problems with the “bathtub” when they cross the line from annoying to destructive is very useful. I try to understand their viewpoint while making it clear that specific actions that they do are causing damage to the group. Most of the time they listen and try their best to accommodate the group. Sometimes they leave. It’s a risk that I’m willing to take and I think it’s a good balance.

  22. #22 Annie
    April 15, 2011

    Sometimes keeping the bathtub is better than getting rid of it. I once belonged to a group where we succeeded in getting rid of the bathtub. Then there was another one and we got rid of that one too. After the third bathtub I realized, I’m next. Sometimes I wonder if groups don’t create bathtubs for themselves in order to focus their negativity in one place.

  23. #23 BetsyR
    April 15, 2011

    I agree with Anna and Melissa. You can’t let one person undermine the group; best to let then know their behavior is unacceptable, though it’s a difficult conversation to have. I once heard something that has stuck with me: “Sometimes the person who needs love the most is the most unlovable.” Dealing with bathtubs is a good learning opportunity for all involved.

  24. #24 GreatBlue
    April 15, 2011

    Interesting post. And timely, as I’m dealing with several similar situations right now.

    I think you have to consider several factors: what’s at stake for the group; the value of the bathtub’s contributions to the group; and the consequences of taking socially agressive action versus just adjusting your own attitude.

    What’s at stake? If it’s physical survival of the group, the group may have to make hard choices. Jettisoning may be the only option. If it’s tearing a group apart, you probably have to figure out a way to minimize the damage. Most of the time, there are more creative ways than jettisoning to deal with a bathtub, as you’ve pointed out. In small communities, or in communities in which you have less power than the bathtub, you often don’t have a choice. You have to deal with difficult people. Sometimes you can encourage the person to be less abrasive; sometimes you just have to mitigate their abrasiveness as much as possible. This may occur as an adjustment in your own attitude toward the bathtub. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for individuals in the group to view the situation as an opportunity to practice patience.

    How valuable are the bathtub’s contributions to the group? Even the most zealous corporations, where efficiency is always a top priority (because it reduces costs and enhances the number one goal of profits) and firing people is always an option, even they will protect a person that brings great value to the corporation, even if s/he is impossible to deal with. A strategy I’ve seen used is assigning the one person who can get along with the talent with a huge ego and no social skills to act as a buffer between the talent and everyone else. The value of the talent to the organization is preserved and the ill effects of the talent on everyone else are mitigated, at least to some degree.

    What are the consequences of taking socially aggressive action? Is it worth starting a legal feud with your obnoxious neighbor or is it better to just go along to get along? Sometimes, meeting obnoxiousness with aggression backfires and actually make the situation worse. I’ve certainly had **that** experience in my life.

    But sometimes it’s worth fighting. The U.S. Declaration of Independence says it best:

    “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations , … evinces a design to reduce under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw , and to provide new guards for their future security .”

  25. #25 GreatBlue
    April 15, 2011

    ops, the brackets deleted my substitutions. Let’s try that again.

    But sometimes it’s worth fighting. The U.S. Declaration of Independence says it best:

    “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that ((the social order of the group)) should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations ((by a bathtub)), … evinces a design to reduce ((the other members of the group)) under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw ((out the bathtub)), and to provide new guards for their future security ((as a group)).

  26. #26 marian
    April 15, 2011

    Sharon, your essay was very powerful for me. I know first-hand how frustrating and unpleasant it can be to work closely with a “bathtub”; but as the mother of an adult child who is frequently the bathtub in his groups, I also know how very painful it is for the bathtubs themselves.
    My son is challenged by a serious psychiatric disease which, even with medication, makes him irritable, insensitive towards others, argumentative, hard to understand,and inflexible. he is also brilliant and wildly creative. Although he can’t understand how his behaviors affect others, he is very deeply hurt when rebuffed by a group or community…
    Letting someone know that their behavior is problematic is only helpful if they are actually able to change. Otherwise, it will just cause more pain and alienation! Instead of trying to change the bathtubs, we need to work on becoming more tolerant and accepting…

  27. #27 Chiral
    April 16, 2011

    This essay really struck a chord for me. I am pretty much like Janice, although I *know* no one likes me.

    I figure I can do two things with that knowledge. The one I chose for years was to isolate myself. I stayed at home on the evenings and weekends and never talked to anyone about anything that wasn’t directly related to my job. A lot of people were spared annoyance that way, I figured, and I was spared some pain. It wasn’t very nice, but at least it was a dull sort of stressful.

    The other option is to go outside anyways and try to learn to be better as I go. Even though I may never get to the point where anyone likes me, maybe I can get a little better. I’ve recently joined the group of about 30 people who take care of a local community garden and they haven’t asked me to leave yet. I find it terrifying and stressful and I’m sure I make things less pleasant for the other people, but what can I do except try?

  28. #28 rheather
    April 17, 2011

    I’ve always figured that even if the world was full of me-clones I’d manage to irritate myself. But I’ve never really thought about it deeply until this post. So thanks!

    And I’m now going to be using the word bathtub as a different kind of description….I just told a cat he’s being a bathtub.

  29. #29 NorthStrand
    April 17, 2011

    I mean this as an honest question, not as an attack- if you believe you’re bringing the group down, why are you there? It sounds like this is a charity or at least non-profit organization that you’re donating your time to because you want to help, so if you believe your scheduling difficulties are holding them back, why not shift your efforts to something less time sensitive?

    I went over and over how to make this not sound accusatory, and I don’t think I did particularly well at it. All I can say is that I’m asking out of a belief that I’m missing part of the story.

  30. #30 Sharon Astyk
    April 17, 2011

    NorthStrand – Because no one else wants to do it ;-). I’m a pain, but I have the consent of my organization to be a pain, and they are grateful I’m doing it. The price of me doing it is working around me.

    Sharon

  31. #31 NorthStrand
    April 17, 2011

    In which case it seems like you’re not really a bathtub, more like a set of suboptimal wheel- it would be great if a set of perfectly matched, perfectly aligned wheels were available, but a slightly wobbly, worn down set is certainly better than no wheels. Whereas the organization is strictly better off without bathtubs.

  32. #32 dreamer
    April 17, 2011

    And this is exactly why I have hated the TV show “Survivor” from day one.

    My “Survivor” show would make the participants split the end prize ONLY IF they survive together .. and the games would be fair, designed to make people team up and discourage the nefarious “games” played for all the wrong reasons.

  33. #33 dreamer
    April 17, 2011

    Loved your post, Sharon .. but looking at the comments and thinking further:

    Inclusiveness is wonderful, I *want* everyone, human, animal, the environnment, the trees in my ark to survive and thrive. My ark can be my rural home, my county, but I do see Earth as my/ our ark.

    However, it is imperative that we also know how to protect our boundaries really really well. There must some kind of decision of who, and how many, other humans or animals we let in. (think invasive species here or the need for spay/neuter and restrained breeding of livestock)

    For instance, allowing illegal immigration and having a totally porous border won’t work. Won’t work for USA .. and surely it won’t work for a county or a farm.

    What if the “bathtubs” have 15 children each and multiply like crazy? What if the bathtubs openly advocate violence, want to push their (unreasonable, violent) culture on the rest of the group?

    We need to teach our children and learn ourselves: recognize when we are “bathtubs” and like you write, be grateful we are accepted as we accept others; but also recognize when bathtubs HAVE TO be left behind, tossed out, led towards different communities, or kept out and not allowed to join in the first place.

    Just to toss out this other argument in favor of exclusiveness. Non PC but just as real.

    My heart, like yours, would want to include and accept everyone and hope they accept me.

  34. #34 dreamer
    April 17, 2011

    #27 -Chira — I feel for you. Hopefully things will work out.

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