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Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Warm

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For months, a good friend would call me on a regular basis, anxious to share the latest unreasonable demand from his bloodless new supervisor who, for purposes of this column, we’ll call Brad. They worked for a large not-for-profit health care organization, but while my friend was (is) a licensed practitioner, Brad was an MBA with no known background in health care (at least not on the provider side).

Brad made himself clear in his first staff meeting — something along the lines of “I was hired to make changes. I am going to be looking hard at the way things have been done, and what needs to change. I am thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to working with — and most importantly, learning from — all of you.”

Exactly the technocratic insincerity you’d expect, but still… yuck. With every anecdote my friend shared, the picture got sharper and more insidious: Brad was a toxic combination of sinister competence and misplaced confidence. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever come across this combination before, but I started to feel like I had… And with every new outrage or petty inanity or expression of disrespect, I’d get more animated, but always in a supportive role, never to agitate. Until my friend called to tell me he was at the breaking point.

“The man does not know anything about health care, or the first thing about dealing with patients,” he railed. “We’re not Walmart. I’ve had it. I’ve got to do something.”

“Yes! And it’s about damn time.” I was ready to put everything aside, hunker down and help him develop the game plan — this was going to be good. I started throwing out different plot lines, like a promoter hyping a title fight: “The Comeuppance.” “Revenge with Benefits.” “Breaking Brad.”  

“I’m not sure what,” he said, interrupting my manic flow. “But it’s got to be the opposite of what he’s expecting.”

“Whatever you say, he’ll pay for his behavior, I’ll write under a pseudonym, you’ll see what I can do to him.”

“Hamilton? I’m getting killed by this guy and you’re quoting Hamilton?”

“Paraphrasing,” I explained.

“I’m not looking to embarrass or humiliate him or get revenge.”

“You need to embarrass and humiliate him and get revenge. Wait. What?” My head was already swimming with complex revenge scenarios. This was a surprise.

“I’m not looking to get even,” he snapped. “I want to beat him. And on his terms. What you’re asking is stupid, and in the long run, counterproductive, but I will get you the result you want… but I’m going to do it my way.”

His steely refusal to lower himself to my level of revenge fantasy was, I had to admit, admirable, particularly because it was so out of character given his well-known vindictive streak. It was also unsettling in what it said about me, apart from my obsession at the time with all things Hamilton.

My admiration, not to mention my sense of moral inadequacy, proved fleeting when he unceremoniously quit via a conference call one month later. He got a marginally better job with a marginally less dysfunctional health care company. Good for him, good for me, and it’s a safe bet that it was good for Brad, too (that supercilious SOB).

All of which leads back to the ancient proverb, the best revenge is getting a better job.

About the Author 

Charles Epstein Bio Image

Charles Epstein is president and founder of BackBone Inc. Follow him on Twitter. 


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