You don’t expect it. That’s the first thing people have to understand. It’s the freak event that arrives without warning in the middle of a clear, blue sky day.
We expect certain behaviors from others. What we expect varies from situation to situation, but at work and in our social worlds, our expectations are largely determined by the recognized roles those others play in our lives and the greater world. What do we expect of a friend? A teacher?A priest? A policeman or a judge? A boss?
Whether the other is someone we consider a friend or is our host in his own home, whether he’s someone we look up to as a mentor, a teacher or a priest, or he’s just “the boss,” we can’t predict every word of the other ahead of time, naturally. But certain utterances, when we hear them, are so freakish, such outrageous departures from any role-appropriate conversation we might have expected, that we can hardly believe our ears.
Stunned. That’s what he said. Former director James Comey says he was stunned, and that’s the word, all right. Think, as we say here Up North, “a deer in the headlights.” Momentarily paralyzed with disbelief. Your mind, supposed to interpret and tell us what to do, can say little beyond “This can’t be happening. This can’t be real. He couldn’t have just said [or done] that.”
You get out of there as fast as you can, saying as little as possible. Your mind whirls. Let’s say this is someone with whom you work—for whom you work. Whether you’re well along in a professional career or just starting out in one or you’re just in some low-level, minimum-wage job you can’t afford to lose, what do you do now?
Some people quit, but most continue to try to do their jobs.
“Why didn’t you tell him he was being inappropriate?”
“Why didn’t you tell this story sooner?”
Why didn’t you do this or say that? In other words, what’s wrong with you that you did not give the appropriate response to the inappropriate observation or request or touch?
Because you couldn’t believe what was happening.
Because you couldn’t believe what he just said.
Because he made sure there were no witnesses.
Because you just wanted to do was get out of there.
Because you still had a job to do.
So you put it aside and go on, protecting yourself as best you can from any future repetition of the situation.
“Why did you continue to take his calls?” Comey was asked.
He was doing his job.
Abuses of power are not always about sex, and abusers do not target only women, but the basic scenario has the same familiar ring. There are no witnesses. And you just can’t believe it’s happening.