The lawyers are circling, there’s a planned tryst in New York but there’s no money for the gas bill. Just how much can you have and still be North Shore poor?
Catalogue of errors part IV
The unfair dismissal case bought by our ex-managing editor was gathering pace. Naturally, we would have been well advised to settle, but we were being advised by a lawyer, who, for some reason, wasn’t quite so keen.
In truth, I was happy to fight. Hubristic, egocentric and ambitious way beyond ability, our adversary had for me come to represent all that I thought wrong with the city I had called home for 15 years. If I had my victory over him, perhaps the city, too, would bend to my will.
I sat down at his old desk, in preparation to move his computer. Had he wiped his hard disk I wondered, deleted his emails? I ventured to check. Incredibly, this most calculating of individuals had failed the most basic test. What I found was a fascinating audit trail of vanity and excess and, to my surprise, despair.
It turned out that our shares-supremo had lost a pile in the dot-com crash and was shuffling money just to keep the household afloat. There were hundreds of emails from his partner: should I pay the gas bill or put some aside for the plumber? How much should I spend on a friend’s birthday present? Can we really afford the weekend away?
Despite his huge salary, these two were really struggling, in a North Shore Sydney kind of way. Debt was bringing them undone and my enemy was, little by little, garnering my empathy.
Until I read of his partner’s desire to own a $400 Fendi handbag – it was, apparently, “fabby” – and the plan to holiday together in New York, at their respective employers’ expense. For these people, their dire financial plight would not be allowed to challenge their desire to live the lives they felt they deserved. The charade had to continue.
Pondering this years later, my anger and sense of being wronged has dissipated. Outwardly, this man was a success: overseas trips, a big salary, a corporate expense account and the prospect of equity in a small business.
Beneath these pecuniary trappings was a man struggling for acceptance. The accoutrements of wealth were, I suspect, the only things that he felt gave him some standing among what he might call his friends. He reminded me of the lonely kid in the playground handing out lollies, knowing full well that when the bag empties, his friends will depart. And yet he hands out the lollies regardless.
How did I respond to these events? At first I was outraged. Here was a tosser of the first order; he deserved punishment. He tried to rip me off and had misrepresented his abilities. His personality jarred with everyone, to the point where one employee, who by a strange quirk had acquired a picture of him, had inscribed the numbers ‘666’ on his forehead (or was that me?).
I lost sleep over it, I became obsessive and stressed and took it out on the people around me. It was never explicit but I had decided: whatever the price I might pay for my victory, this bastard was not going to win.
Now I realise the gravity of that mistake. In fighting these battles we loose something of ourselves; our health, our partners, or simply the ability to recognise in others what exists in ourselves. And yet the way out isn’t easy either.
Somehow I had to arrive at a point where I felt some compassion for this person, to understand that all those things that affronted me, that offended my sensibilities, weren’t actually about or directed toward me, they were about him. Then I looked for a motive.
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That bit was easy. Who hasn’t tried to impress friends or business contacts? Who hasn’t acted for the sake of keeping up appearances? How many people have you met that don’t care if you or anyone else likes them?
I saw this person’s behaviour as so outlandish that it was hard for me to accept that we were of the same species, but the truth was very different. In extremis, he was behaving in ways I couldn’t imagine, but who’s to say that in the same circumstances I wouldn’t act similarly?
Now I can say I forgive him, not to release him but for my own self-regard. This isn’t a magnanimous act, it’s an act of self-preservation, something that allows me to unburden myself of the events of the past and to face the future afresh. As they say up here in the hemp capital of Australia, only through forgiveness can we move on.
Postcript: We eventually reached a settlement, a payment of $26,000 to our former managing editor. Our lawyers calculated that his legal expenses would have just about swallowed the lot.
In two weeks: Will the partners reconcile? Is there a happy ending? Will it ever bloody end?
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