Argh. It's the little things that trip you up when you're trying to focus on some huge project like a thesis. For example, I've realized that if I don't nibble something every four hours or so, my blood sugar crashes. This would be no biggie, except my behavior also changes in such as way as to cause housemates to back away warily while holding a chair between us. Less dramatically, I completely spaced the fact that I was supposed to post something on the tenth! I'm going with short but sweet (hopefully) this time.

Just as my writing here is about potentially protective social masks, so too do I wish to protect the people about whom I speak. Consequently I've changed both names and some of the small details related in this Firestarter. I've tried not to dilute the basic message, however. Enjoy!

I have a dear friend I do lunch with on a fairly regular basis — someone who is an extremely conscientious and dependable person. Just the other day I listened to her vent in frustration about her former boss, whom she'd known as a friend before getting a job with him. To her surprise, she'd found him to be a startlingly unpleasant and dictatorial person to work with, and she became quite uncomfortable with the power dynamics of how he ran his office.

When she gave her two weeks' notice, she went to his office to deliver the news personally and in private; she thought that was only courteous. She was consequently subjected to an hour-long barrage of ranting against her, with the former boss yelling and scowling at her, accusing her of wasting his money, waving his arms and stalking around the room, and claiming she hadn't done her job… needless to say, she was quite shocked. She got another such similar diatribe when she went in for her last check, and she reported to me that she seriously wondered if she'd even be able to get it! He did finally write it out and throw it at her, and she left with alacrity.

Since then she'd had nothing to do with the man, and (unsurprisingly, I thought) no longer considered him a friend. I know I certainly wouldn't have, and I found her behavior with this unpleasant fellow to have been a model of self-restraint and courtesy — one I wasn't sure I could have emulated, to be honest. Here's the startling part, though, and the reason my friend was venting to me: she'd recently found out her former boss was confused and unhappy… because he didn't understand why she wasn't his friend anymore!

From what I was told, his reasoning went something like this: business and friendship are completely separate, and what one does during business has nothing to do with what one does as a friend. This apparently meant he could be incredibly rude, patronizing, loudly overbearing, aggressive, unfriendly, and just plain mean to my friend… but since it was all "business," it somehow didn't matter at all how much he'd hurt her feelings! There was a complete disconnect there, for him, and he was perplexed as to why she didn't want anything to do with him anymore.

My friend was almost in tears as she described how malicious her former boss had been towards her while she was his employee, saying deliberately hurtful things to her and (at least as far as I was concerned) treating her like dirt. When she was done telling me what had happened, she asked me for my opinion: was it childish of her to not wish to have anything further to do with this man? I responded from my heart, assuring her that I felt it was only common sense to avoid someone like that! She seemed relieved, and we chatted a bit further and said no more of it.

Later, however, I sat and thought a bit more on the subject, trying to analyze my strong and immediate response. I know there is a current meme that conflates maturity with separating friendship and business, and I used to believe it as well — but I'm not sure I agree any more. How is it mature to turn a blind eye to mean-spiritedness and cruelty? In what way is it more adult to ignore behavior in a business partner that we wouldn't put up with for a second were it coming from a spoilt child?

I suppose if I decided "maturity" is the same as "shut down any sense of personal responsibility" then this ridiculous meme works. Past that, though, I see no reason why I should expect and anticipate being treated like an emotional punching bag by anyone. To me that's not acceptable behavior regardless of whether it's between friends or business associates.

Further, amongst every person I've asked about this, not a single one has said that they consider it a good thing when someone tells them, "Let's talk business now." Indeed, one friend put it quite clearly, "I've learned that every time someone's told me 'let's talk business now' or 'now it's business,' that's code for 'I'm going to screw you over without guilt now'!"

I guess what this boils down to for me is: if we would not treat a friend so shabbily, why is it all right to do so to a business associate? Wouldn't we all be better off if the courtesy between friends was extended to business as well? I realize this may sound idealistic, but on the other hand, I can't really see any reason why anyone should put up with crap simply because "it's business." I'm curious, though: what do you think is appropriate, and why?

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