I’ve had a battle recently with my manager.
I found out my mother had cancer and was going through a course of chemotherapy. I live in Cambodia. Far away. I decided, of course, to come back to the UK to visit.
I’m a sessional teacher on a temporary contract and only paid for the hours I teach, so I thought it best to come home during the term break.
I would only have one week; not enough time to visit. A one-day journey both ways and jet-lag would only leave a few days to spend with my mum. I’d need more time. I’d email my new, young, hip manager and request an extra week.
“Hi Steve. I understand your circumstances, but I cannot approve your leave.”
I was shocked. Anger surged through me. Did I not just tell you my mother had cancer? Did I not just tell you that this might be the last opportunity to spend some time with her? “I cannot approve your leave.” WHAT?
Of course, there are cultural differences, in family as well as in work. Cambodia, it seems, still adopts an old fashioned mentality in leadership. This manager was new, and wanted to flex his muscles and assert his power.
I soon learned he’d already said “no” to someone else who had asked for leave to see a sick relative. He’d also threatened their job.
Burning with anger, I off-loaded my angst to a few friends. One prayed for me and prayed for my manager. Another friend, an experienced 12-step recovery program leader, told me to pray for him too.
Of course! Pray for him! Why hadn’t I thought of that? Isn’t that what Jesus tells us to do?
“But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” Matthew 5:45
I tried. Angry as I was, I tried. Even though I felt I could not look him in the eye, I tried. Even though I was fuming inside, and my blood was hot with rage, I tried.
That week I also happened to listen to a talk by Tim Keller that also talked about how to deal with people who had hurt you. And what was his advice? Pray for them. But he took it a step further.
After praying for them, after forgiving them, after there wasn’t an ounce of anger left in our bones towards them, we were to face them, to have that difficult conversation with them. Confront them.
I dived on Amazon for books to help me, and found How to have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, the writers of those brilliant books on “Boundaries.”
I called my manager and arranged to see him. As it turned out, I didn’t get to express my feelings of outrage as he had changed his mind. He approved my leave. He gave me the week off.
But there was a downside. My hours would be reduced for that term, meaning a deficit in my salary of $400 per month.
Anger surged again.
I then asked for permission to teach at another school to make up my hours, and was threatened with my job.
With rage burning, I wondered if I should leave – sticking up two fingers to my dream job in the name of human rights. Should I leave my job because of the behaviour of another person? My friends advised me to let it go and slip back under the radar with the 100 or so other ex-pat teachers.
But this manager needs to be taught a lesson, I cried. He can’t be threatening people’s jobs for asking questions and requesting leave. Even if that is how it works in Cambodia, that doesn’t make it right. If we can’t fight for ourselves when we’ve been wronged, how can we fight for others?
But was I the person to take this fight to him? Was this my role? Was I the one to teach him the lesson? Was this my battle?
Or should I just take my leave, my reduced hours, and slip, quietly, back under the radar and enjoy my work and my students?
What would you do? What difficult people have you had to deal with? Do you pray for those who hurt, mistreat and offend you? Do you choose to confront, or do you avoid conflict? Do you choose your battles wisely?