I’ve come to the end of a long year of pulling myself out of toxic relationships, both personal and professional. There’s nothing heroic about staying in such a relationship if you don’t absolutely have to. Get out, or you will be dragged down yourself.
This is the era of the caustic, the jester, the troll. I get it.
Political correctness and participation trophies were absurd. I’m all for getting rid of them. Universities don’t need safe zones, trigger warnings and micro-aggressions. None of this, though, means that we should through civility and common decency to the wind. That’s what has been lost from public discourse: the ability to disagree with someone while remaining on friendly terms, being serious without showing anger and being productive without being harsh.
After a year and a half, I left an office where every sentence required profanity, personal insults were dished out daily and even physical threats became a reality. It was the old frog in a boiling pot problem. When I started out things weren’t so bad, but each week got a bit worse. Since I’ve left, I feel like a completely different person.
I once considered it noble to stay in crumbling relationship or not quit a bad job. I was wrong. No partner will ever be perfect, no job ideal. This isn’t about that. There’s a point when you realize that you’ve done everything you could. When you’ve reached that point, it’s time to go. The longer you linger, the more you risk becoming part of the cesspool.
The idea of right speech is a powerful concept that keeps coming back to me. This is my litmus test: If either I’m surrounded by unbecoming speech or find myself saying things that I’m not proud of, it’s time to start asking uncomfortable questions.
Is this a situation you can ethically leave? Moving, ending a bad relationship or leaving a toxic employer can all probably be done in moral way. Use common sense. Cheating on a partner is unethical, ending a relationship isn’t. Leaving a job, even in the midst of a big project is life; stealing trade secrets isn’t. Make sure you have the moral high ground and then get going.
The lie at the heart of any unhealthy relationship is that there aren’t any other options out there. This is very likely not the case. In all the cases where I’ve left a friendship, relationship or employer over the past year, something better has come along. Do a rational analysis, but don’t be cowered into denying your own self-worth.
Toxic situations leak. I took out my relationship woes on my friends and my work issues on those closest to me, despite my best efforts not to. The most compassionate choice was to walk away.
What I fear most in the era of the strongman is that being rude and unbearable have become substitutes for being an actual alpha male, a true leader. It doesn’t have to be like this. Nurturing and strong go hand in hand.