Ways to deal with bullies
As a longtime fan of Buffy and the internet, I'm finally getting around to watching Felicia Day and friends in The Guild. It's a silly little show, but pretty funny.
Somewhere in the middle of the second season, our heroes are confronted with a group of bullies.
Initially, their fearful and temporary leader, Codex, tries diplomacy. This only serves to rile up the bullies even more.
Then their regular leader, Vork, returns from his soul-searching to announce that he is a great leader because everyone hates him. I think the insightful point here is that if you're going to lead, you have to be able to handle the fact that you can't please everyone all the time. SO true.
Rather than trying to make friends with the bullies, or have a peaceful solution, Vork decides they need to have a throwdown.
But, ironically, Vork gets killed early in the battle. And Codex ends up winning and saving her team. Yay! Go girl power!
Still, I'm writing about this because I found the original outcome is more like real life. Negotiating with the bully will only make you look weaker.
And there are rarely situations where you can muster up the force necessary to confront and beat down a bully in science. More likely, if you're lucky, time will tell. But who has that much time? I don't.
From what I can tell, the only other option is to be sneaky. Don't try to negotiate, and don't try to fight openly.
Personally, sneaky is not something I do very well, nor is it something I enjoy. But I was thinking about this today when I realized this is how I learned to deal with my parents. They tend to be controlling and opinionated, which tends to undermine my confidence even now, even if they don't actually hold the purse strings to my freedom like they did for the first half of my life.
So instead I learned to lie by omission. Oh sure, eventually I tell them most things, but after the fact, when it's too late for them to judge or intervene.
My thesis advisor had to actually coach me on how to disobey in lab. I was instructed that, even if I was told not to do something, didn't mean I shouldn't do it anyway. (And then brag about the results later.)
But I'm reaching a point in my career where the degree of sneaky is really much greater than my natural affinity for this approach. Figuring out how to sneak your papers past the nasty editors and reviewers at the evil bully journals? Figuring out how to sneak your grant into a study section that won't realize they just funded you to work on something really controversial?
I really don't know how people learn to do this. Or are all successful scientists bullies and liars? I don't really think this is true, but I do wonder if the good people doing science have survived by working underground, like sneaky little elves.