“Familiarity breeds contempt” -Aesop
The Fox and the Lion was written as one of Aesop’s fables to teach those in upper positions to not become too chummy with those ‘beneath’ them. The thinking was that their becoming too familiar with subordinates would result in a loss of the proper respect they are owed. It is a good lesson for a supervisor who needs to be reminded not to socialize with workers in his or her department, a business owner with employees, or anyone who needs to maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. Familiarity can indeed breed contempt, which can destroy an otherwise great relationship.
Hanging out in coffee shops continues to be a great way to learn life lessons. From my latest visit, it’s tempting to write about customer service — how two employees were especially friendly and helpful, behavior that should be emulated. I would also need to tell you about the two employees who behaved as if I were an inconvenience in their busy morning, the kind of behavior that really should never be repeated.
What really struck me recently was how one employee was treated by a co-worker where many of us could witness the actions. Calling out another person in front of others, talking to them as if they deserve no respect, is really more telling of the one doing the calling out than it is the person being chastised, and begs the bigger question: How are each of us treating the people in our home, in our office, in our family, in our daily lives?
With the exception of harried workers, most of us tend to be really nice to the strangers in our daily walk or to the friends we don’t know too well, but when it comes to the people who should matter the most, what do we do? It seems we are so familiar that we think we can speak more harshly or behave less kindly, and we really need to stop doing that — right now.
You know it’s true — you would never speak to the man who needs help at the grocery the way you speak to your husband or your father, and you wouldn’t normally treat your co-worker who doesn’t understand a project the way you treat your child who needs extra help on their homework assignment. Research is out there to assure us it’s normal to treat those we love, those with whom we are most familiar at work, with less kindness, but I don’t want to accept it and end here saying, “Yeah, go ahead and treat me badly because we are so close.” I want to start right here to say, “I’m better than that, and so are you.”
Now that you are aware of how you might be treating those close to you, what can you do to change your words and actions so you don’t feel like they’re saying to people, “You should see her/him at home!”? Rudeness isn’t too far afield from bullying.
You and I know why to be nice, so maybe we need to be reminded how to be nicer to those closest to us.
- Imagine that someone else is speaking to you and treating you the way you treat others at work or in your home. Turn the tables on yourself and play back your voice in your head or on a recording
- Take the time to speak and treat people the way you would like to be treated. The Golden Rule might seem antiquated to some, but it’s worked for many years.
- Practice being nice — in other words, be intentional when you can so it becomes a habit.
You and I might find ourselves even today with people we care about and to whom we speak unkindly. Don’t use your familiarity as an excuse to behave badly just because research explains that it happens. Kindness is never wasted. (Lion and the Mouse)
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