Isn’t it nice when people are polite with one another? If every person were polite at all times, we would have a perfect society. How splendid! Everyone would be clean, because being dirty is impolite. Though the sentiment is lofty, displaying civility caused distress for me. How so?
My supervisor showed up to work one day walking slowly and limping. I hadn’t seen her directly but had noticed the atypical gait from the corner of my eye when she passed by my cubicle. There are some days that we don’t have a need to speak much, so the day went by without addressing what appeared to be an injury. The next day was the same. I wasn’t seeking out conversation with her because our personalities clash at times. But the day came when she brought a file to my desk, and I felt it was the civil thing to ask what was wrong with her leg.
That is where the situation took a bad turn. She told me she had taken a fall and injured her ankle and her knee. Being a demonstrative person, she wanted to partially reenact the fall for me and also pull up her skirt a bit to show me her injured knee. The problem was that she was carrying a stack of files. If she had been standing closer to my desk, she may have put them on top of it, but she was now standing outside of my cubicle. There have been times that she has put files on the floor. In fact, she started to do so, but stopped short. Just as the bottom file in the stack brushed the floor, she looked up and asked if I would hold the files. She thrust them toward me, so what was I to do? It was a fairly large stack, and I was trying to take them from a seated position – and not touch the bottom file! It was very difficult. I tried to get a grip on the upper part of the bottom file while balancing the rest of the stack. But of course, I couldn’t take too long because she was waiting for me to take them from her. I struggled to get ahold of them without touching the bottom, and I couldn’t quite do it. If I hadn’t used the last two fingers on my right hand to hold the stack underneath, I would have dropped them all.
At this point I was straining to hold the files in an awkward position. I had to feign to care while she acted out her scene, when I just wanted her to take the files back. Finally the theatrics were over, and she took the files back. But the damage was done. I needed to clean my fingers, but often after an incident, I begin to question what was actually contaminated. I knew for certain that the last two fingers were, but were others bumped at all? Instead of wiping off the two fingers, I felt that I was going to need to go to the sink and wash. But first I did pour alcohol on a few napkins and thoroughly wipe my hands with them. I headed to the sink and began washing with my own piece of soap. I was there for a minute and was almost done, when guess who walked up? That’s right. My supervisor was getting into the refrigerator that was right next to the sink. If I thought that she would leave quickly, I would have stayed at the sink. But I had no idea how long she would linger in the break room, so I shut off the faucet with a napkin and walked by her and back to my desk. What was significant about this? My hands were blood red from the hot water, and she had told me in the past that she knew I was a germophobe because she had seen my red hands. I wondered if she made the connection that I had washed up because of the files she gave me to hold, and she likely did. Just another uncomfortable situation for me.
Civility. Hmm. Maybe I should have minded my own business.