Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Yesterday, I spoke about the fragile “interior” me as opposed to that “exterior” me that seems so strong, but I think I left a few things out there.

If you do decide to go “into battle”, to stand up to the bullies or for something you believe in strongly, you need to pick your battles wisely.  There may be compromise.  You may wish to take the higher road, turn the other cheek.  You may go in with all guns blazing.  You may need to defend your honour.  There may be things you have to do that you don’t like doing but the end justifies the means.  Any which way you look at it, there may be winners and losers.  It may be a short, sharp blitzkrieg or a long, drawn-out war.  There might not be a battle at all; maybe they deem you too weak an opponent to consider, or maybe you walk away with your head held high.

In saying all of this, you have to be careful.  What you do, or what your “go-to” plan is by default, could change you for the worst.  You could grow into a bully yourself.  You could become bitter.  You might look back at yourself in 10 years time and say, “Who the hell am I and how did I become this way?”

There’s no easy answer and there’s no correct answer for everyone.  You have to decide how you deal with things on an individual, case-by-case basis.  How important is this to you?  Are you battling for battle’s sake or is everything at stake?  Are you more of a man or woman if you just walk away from it all, or is this a fight you need to fight?  These are all questions you should ask yourself.

Noel and my fight for equal rights in New Zealand Immigration, for example, was a fight worth fighting.  Why?  Because it was the right thing to do, it was a battle that would eventually be won, and it progressed equality for LGBT couples that little bit further.

My Mom’s phrase, as I mentioned above, is, “you have to pick your battles wisely”.  And that’s very, very true.

On another note, never feel you are alone or that people don’t understand you or that you are not loved.  More people probably understand what you are going through than what you realize, and you need to find someone who will listen to you and guide you back to the right path.  It could be your mother, your father, an aunt or uncle, a teacher, a pastor… it could be any number of people you know and trust.  You might not get all the answers from one person; you might need to cobble together answers from several people you talk to in order to bring together one cohesive strategy.

Sometimes even finding an on-line community dealing with your issues could help, although the anonymity of the Web is a double-edged sword.  It gives you the freedom to express how you are feeling without social barriers and the pressure from others filtering out what you really want to say; on the other hand, it can lead to other anonymous people saying things they would normally not say and hurt you even deeper.  A huge problem in on-line communications is people are unable to gauge the emotional reactions and facial expressions and body language that communicate quite a bit in the way humans interact.

I have to admit that I have felt times where I wonder if anyone loves me or cares about me.  There are times I log on to Facebook in the morning or onto WordPress to find no one has commented or liked the things I have posted, and that critic in my head says, “I don’t know why you do all this; nobody likes you and nobody listens.”

The critic in my head is wrong.

If I’m ever feeling blue, I think about the love my family gives me, Noel gives me, my friends give me, my pets give me.  One of the times where that outpouring of concern and love was most apparent to me was when the 22 February 2011 quake hit Christchurch.  My Facebook page had many, many, many people commenting to see if Noel and I were okay, and they were genuinely concerned.  It made me realize that I am loved, I am cherished, and those who matter to me do care about me.

In late 2011 and into early 2012, we had a former student who was trying to sue the training establishment where I work for her international examination fees back, as the international examinations were delayed due to the 13 June 2011 quakes and their effect on our campus.  We lost over 95% of our work possessions and access to our campus building due to the second, larger quake that struck that day.  After it was very apparent we weren’t going to be in that building any more, we launched into a full search for a new building and went into recovery and repair mode.

The long and short of the former student’s case against us was that she had signed a contract to say she was sitting those international examinations, and she understood there were no refunds; we had already registered her for those international examinations and paid the fees directly to the international examining bodies; the international examining bodies still wanted to hold those international examinations, only at a later date; we had made the effort to rearrange those international examinations at a later date, and we kept in communication with the students about this; we used our discretion (with the support of our international examining bodies) to issue refunds, where available and outside our established policy, to students who had left the country permanently; and she decided she no longer wanted to sit the international examinations, so she filed a dispute against us in the Disputes Tribunal.

To be honest, it nearly drove me over the edge.  The stress of earthquakes, fighting NZQA and the Government over the fallout from the quakes, trying to get temporary premises, trying to get new premises, worrying about Noel’s back injury (it was so bad at one point that he was barely able to walk), fighting through my own injuries, and wondering when the shaking was finally going to stop were already consuming me mentally and emotionally, and the last thing I needed was a disgruntled former student making a matter that could easily be resolved by her sitting her examinations into a three-ring circus.

The case went before a referee.  The student went on the warpath, and there were a few interesting stories that came out from her testimony.  She even tried to make it a bit personal at times.  (As the quote says, “Thank you.  We’re all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.”) I had all my paperwork and tried to present our point-of-view professionally, taking notes about her comments and testimony throughout the process.  Once she found out that we would have to return for another hearing — and the referee had told us this might be the case at the beginning of the hearing — she turned quite defensive about the whole thing.

I worried (as I do) about the whole thing.  I try to give my 110% to the students and help them out, but there comes a point where you draw the line at what you are paid to put up with and what you are not; she vastly overstepped the line.  She accused me of all sorts of things, defamed me on a Facebook forum, and probably slandered my name from here to kingdom come.  She even said to her classmates in that same Facebook forum that I had lied (which the international governing bodies stepped in and informed her and her classmates in extremely strong terms that no, I was telling the truth, and she, in fact, had got her facts mixed up), and I was very angry about that.

One night, I was at home, having a rather normal evening with Noel and our friend Adam when we started talking about the case.  Now, Adam is a very happy-go-lucky guy; I’ve never really seen his feathers ruffled.  I always get the feeling that Adam doesn’t let much get him down.  So, when he saw I was upset and I had said something about what this former student had said that was personal, he became very serious and said, “Those who know you and love you know who you really are.”  Basically: it’s your friends, family, and loved ones whose opinions count.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew he was right.  Who was this woman to me?  She paid the training establishment to do a job, to qualify her as a beauty therapist; we did it.  She was employed out of that training (and subsequently, she now has her own clinic out of that training), and it wasn’t my fault she had every excuse under the sun to try to wrangle her way out of her international examinations, when, in fact, there was nothing stopping her from fulfilling her end of the contract by sitting them.  She didn’t even have a very tight case, and, as the referee later said in her ruling, the case boiled down to the contract and if we were able to fulfil our end of it in a timely manner (taking the earthquakes and their effects into account).

I was more mentally and emotionally prepared for the second hearing, both the “exterior” me and the “interior” me.  I felt I was going to go in and stay as professional as I could be but also go on the offensive.  Last time, most of the case had been dominated by her and her construction of a house of cards; this time, most of the case would be dominated by me pulling out those cards, one-by-one, or a handful at a time, if need be.

She tried to argue that things I brought up from my notes from the first hearing were things she didn’t say last time; the referee sided with me.  She tried to argue that I shouldn’t be able to bring up other students’ examples into the case because the case was between her and the school, but she had the right to compare her case to other students; I pointed out this was hypocritical on her part, and the referee again sided with me.  The more I remained calm and pushed my points across, the more flustered she became, and the weaker her case grew.  People like that tend to lash out like a cornered animal, and she was true to form.  At one point, Jacqui (my friend and also colleague, who was there as a support person and a witness) stepped in to correct something the former student said (she did ask permission first) and, extremely frustrated at another point where the former student talked over me for the umpteenth time, Jacqui shushed her.  (I tried not to laugh, and then Jacqui tried not to laugh after seeing me trying not to laugh.)

The point at which I knew the school would probably win this case is when the former student was going on another one of her tirades and the referee took her glasses off and started to rub her temples and pinch the bridge of her nose.  I did nearly ask if she was okay (my instinctive response) but the former student didn’t even notice; she kept on her rant.

Once the case ended, the referee stated she would send her ruling out in the mail (another thing that was in the information), and the former student stated (quite bluntly) that she thought the referee would make the decision then and there on the spot.  The referee was somewhat blunt back (obviously feeling the same way I was at that hearing: beyond frustrated), and the former student snatched her things from the table and stormed away.  Her partner sheepishly grinned and said thank you to the referee.  Jacqui and I gathered our things together and had a very short chat to the referee and thanked her as well.

A few weeks later, a letter came in the mail from the Disputes Tribunal.  I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to open it or not, but Jacqui and Noel insisted I open it.  I did all the hard work, I faced up to the former student, and I would be first to find out the results.

I opened the envelope, exhaled, and started reading the letter.

We’d won!

I didn’t dance around the room or anything because I was honestly sad it had come to this.  The former student should’ve sat her examinations and been done with it, instead of going the way she did; it would’ve been a lot less stress for everyone, she would’ve been finished with her exams before the case had even come before the tribunal, and she would’ve got her money’s worth.  Now, she had nothing to show for it but a letter to say she’d lost her case.  (I did give Jacqui and Noel and Don a big hug because they had supported me throughout the entire ordeal.)

I could have then sued her for defamation of character as I had proof she’d said I was lying when I hadn’t been lying, but that’s where the “turn the other cheek” bit comes in.  We’d won; she’d lost.  It would be going too far to take her to court.  While she had behaved like Captain Ahab, obsessed about the whale of her case against us, I didn’t want to be like that.  I didn’t want to become like her.

So, it was a battle worth fighting because I knew we were in the right.  I was defending the school’s honour and reputation, and it was defended.  I wasn’t going to go further on some personal vendetta, because, as Adam said, those who know me and love me know who I really am; this former student didn’t know me and will never know me, and, if she’d behaved like this with me and the school, surely she behaved like this with other organisations and people, and either a reputation was formed or would be formed in the near future.

As I said at the beginning, you need to know which battles to fight and which ones to walk away from.  You need to know that someone, somewhere, at some point in your life loved you or loves you and cares about you.  No matter how you feel or how upset you are, you are never truly alone.