“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.” –Margaret Wheatley
Recently we were collaborating with a prominent speaker, author and scholar on an interview project about creating sustainable innovation processes. Anyway, his assistant and collaborator Mary (not her real name), had been working tirelessly over a several week period to make sure everything went smoothly the day of our production project. She coordinated the facilities reservation, understanding our interest in a quiet yet convenient location for the talent, helped shepard the contract process, corresponded with the technical requirements of our production team, brought his visual and instructor materials two hours in advance of his arrival, and brought donuts and coffee as well. She was professional, thorough and cheerful throughout the entire process.
The principal talent (her boss) arrived twenty minutes late, tersely introduced himself to us, and then, after examining the materials Mary had brought, he declared them entirely inadequate and her performance and preparation abysmal. He quite publicly said she did a terrible job, and because of her lack of preparation he was going to have to improvise. We were stunned and embarrassed, and I quickly redirected his attention to the project and the content we hoped to record that day. Mary retreated to a corner of the room and we proceeded with our filming collaboration.
Mary excused herself before we had finished our project and I didn’t have a chance to speak with her. So later that afternoon I called her and simply said, “Mary, I just want you to know his behavior to you was inexcusable and it didn’t go unnoticed. I want you to know I think you did a fantastic job and it’s been a great pleasure to work with you and he should have never said those horrible things to you.”
The line went quiet and I thought I had lost the connection until I heard her quietly crying. She went on to say that he had been treating her like this for months ever since she took the job but she was afraid to quit because he was a family friend. I told her she was young, ambitious and immensely talented and she should think seriously about first talking to him, and then leaving. A month went by and I received a surprise email from her – she had quit her job with the verbally abusive egotist and was heading off to Australia to accept a new position after she traveled and explored a while.
I certainly don’t claim credit or responsibility for Mary’s life choices, and I do think I lost an opportunity to say something in the moment when he spoke to Mary so appallingly. But remember this: ease suffering when you can. Relationships are all there is.