The Code of Conduct
At work we have to complete a code of conduct, a test that basically goes over ethics violations at the workplace. Most any American who works for a mid-size to large company has to nowadays. It goes over things like intellectual property ownership and access to sensitive information and the propriety of accepting gifts from vendors.
We all have a personal code of conduct. Some people’s is more laissez faire while others are more regimented in their beliefs. It’s frequently been noted that members of organized crime families and gangs have their own code of conduct. Mafia movies like The Godfather series are so popular, not solely because of their propensity for sex and violence but also because the mafia leaders have their own set of ethics, which, skewed as they may seem to the rest of us, they do adhere to.
Ethics seems like a pretty black and white proposition, and yet the older one gets the more one finds grey areas until much of the subject of ethics just seems like varying shades of gray with a little black and white thrown in, like the color on the picture of a black and white television screen.
When I was younger the world was very black and white to me. Every violation of what I saw to be the good and right thing to do seemed like a stab in the heart that made my view of the world darken with the black stain of my own dark heart. I was quick to be wounded and sometimes quick to believe the worst about people. How is self-righteousness any more attractive than any other sin?
I was looking at The Post In Which I Eat Crow and the two posts that led to that epiphany as a metaphor for my whole life in more ways than one. First off, it’s only one in a series of “relationships” I had with men that were categorized by my first picking out someone that I had a strong attraction for who was fundamentally unsuitable on some level.
I then obsessed over the guy when he was smart enough not to ask me out or eventually rejected me, for whatever reason. In the end, I would feel hurt because I’d been rejected by someone who was sending me mixed messages. I used to call it partial reinforcement, like it was a behavioral psychology term coined by B.F. Skinner, and for all I know, it could be. It reminds me of that management book, Who Moved My Cheese? It never once occurred to me that maybe, just maybe they were sending mixed messages because they were actually returning my own ambivalent feelings.
You know, one thing I always wondered back in the day is why Vern broke up with his girlfriend and then never asked me out, even though he’d shown every sign of being interested. I only found out about the chasing tail thing later.
Vern and Ernest are like the dueling banjos of character assassins. First, Ernest tells me that Vern spent the months when he was broken up with his girlfriend pursuing a series of shallow sexual couplings, and, of course, there’s that stuff about The Bet. Eighteen years later, Vern tells me Ernest was living with him as a roommate back then because his girlfriend got tired of him beating the shit out of her and kicked him out.
Well, since I dodged both those bullets, I kind of find the dueling character assassins analogy funny. Eighteen years between stanzas.
Anyway, it occurred to me that there were two very good reasons why Vern might not have wanted to ask me out, besides my own ambivalence. The breakup lasted precisely five months. That’s not very long. Jumping right into another relationship, because I was a relationship type of girl, would have been sort of like me going and immediately getting another puppy after the death of my beloved pet two months ago. It’s too soon for me to make that kind of investment, and it would feel like a kind of betrayal. But I still like dogs, and I like to pet other people’s pets when I get the chance.
So, for a certain kind of man, a lot of men, that’s part of their code of conduct. They have their own sense of honor, and some girls are seen as relationship material while others are not. Why he decided to violate his own standard of ethics at the last minute is a mystery for which I’ll never know the answer.
But one thing that I do know is that if Vern had ever actually asked me out, the whole thing would have played itself out with me eventually moving on, bored with him or convinced that he was unsuitable in some other way, and that would have been the end of it. I wouldn’t have been happy living in a small town in Oklahoma with a guy who studied business, spent his spare time watching football, worked at the Wal-Mart, and made constant racial epithets. Of course, he wouldn’t have been any happier living in the city with a self-righteous, politically liberal, poetry writing feminist who liked to spend her spare time with her nose buried in a book. The reason why I remembered it so clearly after so many years is because it seemed like he wasn’t interested, and ultimately, I wondered why he wasn’t falling all over himself to be with me.
Perhaps I’d do well to take a magnifying glass to my own code of conduct as well.