Karens aren't born, they are made. This is the story of a workplace Karen.
I grew up in the mean streets of Cypress, Texas where I can't walk five miles without running into someone I know. I was that girl in high school State Placing Athlete, Top 10% of my class, my sister was a basketball legend and I was a crusty, little Regina George style mean girl since the day I hit puberty. I took another girl's boyfriend to prom, just mean. I know one when I see one, and I sympathize with them deeply because I know bullies aren't born, they're made. Excuses are made for them, allowances are given to them. Teachers like them, boys like them, girls like them, so they feel like they're always right. I've also seen a workplace Karen in more than one case at different stages of their lives. It's the same formula every time. The wrong behavior is rewarded, the right behavior is praise and if they are smart and keep working hard no matter who they wrong along the way it's ok, because they have the best of intentions. "They just want to get the job done." I've also come of age, as we all have, with immersion in late stage capitalism. I know how hard it is to fight your way to dry land and that ocean storms, rages and rolls. The sad part is, most people just call that storm life in America. They don't plan to, think to or know how to access the peace exists on the other side of that chaos.
So they go through life, largely unchallenged to grow and develop because excuses are made for their tantrums. People around them are told to just, 'stop bothering them.' Even when being told to work to accomplish something with them.
And sadly, work is just high school and I've already beat that level of social Super Mario.
Peace exists on the other side of "girl world." If you haven't watched the movie, seriously, just stop and go watch it now.
So since we are all God's creation and we are all subject to love and respect under his instruction I make sure to always move in love. I do my best, in all things. I love my work/creation, I love my family, I love my community and I love myself (Luke 6:35-36). Love can materialize in a lot of different ways. I value people who love and care enough about me to be honest with me. That is how I show love. See What Does Love Look Like in the workplace (Write Blog) to understand the corporate definition of love.
Kendra and Karen were assigned the same class with assigned seats next to the other. (This was a time, distant ago, before COVID-19, 20, 21, 22, & 23 #maskoff). The two girls had a new teacher Ms. Frizzle, who just started teaching at Magic School Bus Middle School.
One of the first thing Ms. Frizzle did was pair the students into groups and assign team leads & administrative partners.
She explained the project and the kids were off to the races. Karen was assigned team lead and was so honor and so excited to impress Ms. Frizzle. Karen wanted to be just like her when she grew up and Ms. Frizzle could tell and was flattered. She knew the young girl to always be nice, sweet and kind. She trusts fully that Karen is the more or less the same even when she isn't around. She assumed that Karen was raised correctly and knew the rule, always be nice to others.
When the project begins Karen tells Kendra they are making penguins. And she needs to go and get supplies.
Kendra gets her instructions and takes off, she loves to create. She grabs black and white construction paper, black & white sequins, glue, a red sequin for his bow-tie, two googly-eyes and an orange piece of felt to cut out a nose. When Kendra and Karen meet, Kendra presents all her supplies. Karen becomes frustrated. "What is all of this? We are making penguins. I need white computer paper, not this colored construction paper. You didn't get the colored pencils and crayons? What have you been doing this whole time while I've been working? If this happens again we're just going to have to pause the whole project because of you and I'll have to show you step by step what I want." Kendra, having fought so many times before about the same "miscommunication" or "personality clash" or "culture fit" or "performance issue". Just says ok. But she is angry, so she goes to Ms. Frizzle during recess, she tells her what happened between her and Karen and how hurtful and sad it made her to work so hard only to be torn down. She asks Ms. Frizzle if Karen can use some of the same tactics that she had to use to stay calm in order for her to stay calm too. Simple things, giving yourself a time out, counting to 10 and taking deep breaths. Ms. Frizzle looks at Kendra and says, "I know Karen wasn't trying to hurt you. I know you may think Karen took her frustration out on you but don't assume that. I think you're wrong, I know you and Karen can work it out just ask her why she did it, and then make sure you don't do that thing ever again. We have to make sure Karen feels comfortable here too, it's not just about you."
Should I blame the ambitious Karen? Should I blame the empathetic mediator Ms. Frizzle?
Should I blame myself for making a mistake?
I've learned to see past people and their inevitable human-ness and instead see the structures that create those people. So let's all agree on some basic Kindergarten principals here for a happier, kinder society. Hold Karen's accountable the FIRST time they are reported.
In America, we need to normalize making mistakes, or not, but the hypocritical management style has got to go either way. White women are Karens an estimated 2.4 billion times per second (that's a hyperbolic stat) and no one really cares or bothers to correct them in their close circles. When that unchecked attitude meets reward & privilege, lack of self-awareness and authority it is a recipe for stunted growth. For so long we haven't had to language to explain this toxic behavior. Now we have it, are using our voices and we are either not being believed or the tools you are giving are not accounting for our voice. They are talking to us and not with us.