It's time for me to tell you a story. A story about a girl, not much unlike me. This story is based on a true story and any resemblance with live characters is totally intentional.
Alex loved to play football. She had recently switched teams to be able to get into a higher division and really liked it. Football had been seeing a rough couple of months, and teams all around her were having trouble finding enough players for the games. But her team managed to recruit a couple of good players, and they seemed to be right on track to actually win some important games. Although some of her friends had recently decided to quit the team, she decided to stick with it because she really enjoyed their play style and her team mates.
One day when she came for the regular practice, she noticed that her locker had been moved. Instead of being out with the rest of the team mates, she now got to into the trainers locker room, which was in a secluded area. In here, a couple of players who were the trainers right and left hands and called "helpers" discussed who to pick for the games and why. They also discussed practice techniques and strategies on how to tackle various teams. Alex didn't know why someone had decided that she was good enough, or knew enough, to suddenly be part of the trainer team, but she wasn't going to question it. She decided that if they had promoted her, it was probably because they thought she could handle it, and she would do her best. Also, she was assigned to handing out directions and discuss matters during games, aiming to help everyone perform at their best, which wouldn't differ much from what she thought she was already doing in her team, always trying to get a discussion going on why something didn't work and why something did, on what shoes that were the best on what surface and so on. So she continued doing what she always had done.
A couple of weeks passed when the trainer asked if Alex could come see him after the game. Alex wondered what that could be all about, but didn't have the feeling that it could be anything good. "The talk" is never a good thing. When she got into the trainer locker room she was met by the trainer and some of his helpers who were wearing important and serious faces.
"So, what's up?", Alex asked.
"Well..." the Trainer started. "There have been some complaints. About you." The helpers around him nodded gravely and looked at her.
"Umm, ok?" Alex said, unsure what more to say about it. "What kind of complaints?"
"Well you know" said the Trainer and shrugged. "People saying you've got an attitude. That you're... being mean to them".
"Well... I'm not" tried Alex.
"Yeah yeah, we all know that" said the Trainer and looked around at his helpers, who all nodded quickly. "And we've tried explaining it to them, but these people insist that you're got it in for them".
"Ok?" Alex said again, still unsure about how this would unfold.
"They actually wanted us to kick you out of the team".
Alex was silent.
"But we said that that wouldn't happen."
"What exactly is it I've done or said to offend these people?" Alex asked. "I could perhaps just say I'm sorry and explain that I never meant any harm, if I know what it is that bothered them?"
"Yeah, that would be nice, but the problem is bigger" said the Trainer and paused, as if he was unsure how to proceed. "The real problem is that it's not really what you say, it's the fact that you're the one saying it".
Alex stared at the trainer, looked at the helpers who quickly looked away, and back to the Trainer. She tried to figure out if this was a bad joke or not. But the Trainer didn't say anything more.
"Not much I can do about that, is there?" She said.
"No, unfortunately not." the Trainer admitted.
"So what should I do?"
"We have decided to remove you as a helper, first of all. You'll just be a regular player again. That way, people won't feel so threatened by you, and maybe they will like you?".
Alex wasn't sure she was hearing what she was hearing.
"Do you think I've done anything wrong?" she asked.
"Oh no, not at all. But that doesn't matter. Some people think you have. They have said that something has to be done or they will leave the team."
"But by demoting me you're basically telling them that you agree with them, and this is my punishment. Although I've only ever done my job, by trying to engage people in discussions about how the games could go smoother. I've never deliberately tried to make anyone feel bad about their performance, the opposite!"
"Yes we know that" said the Trainer calmly. "But these people are offended nonetheless, and something has to be done".
"Ok, if you think this will help. I strongly doubt that" Alex said and shrugged. "You'll only enforce their dislike with me by condoning their attitude towards me".
"But by making you a regular player they will want to be your friends" the Trainer said again. "But anyway" he continued hastily "that's not all. We'd also want you to try to not talk during our games. Try to keep whatever you say to things that aren't about the game".
"You want me to think about every little thing that comes out of my mouth, making sure I don't hurt someones feelings? What would that help? Apparently it doesn't matter what I say since anything I say hurts someones feelings." Alex said angrily.
"True, but it's a start".
"Can't you just tell me who it is that feels so threatened by me and I'll try not to talk to them?"
"Sure, it's Sandra." said the Trainer.
"Sandra?" asked Alex, and tried to remember all the times they had spoken. "No one else?"
"Well...." said the Trainer slowly. "Not specifically, but she has friends, and she threatened to quit the team and tell her friends to do so as well if we didn't do anything about you".
"I know I've got a rough way of expressing myself at times, but I've never even said anything bad to her" Alex said, forcing herself to remember every word that she's ever said to Sandra. Sandra hadn't been in the team for long, and Alex had really thought she was a great player. She had thought that she'd said so to Sandra, but apparently she had gotten the entirely wrong impression.
"Well there was this one time" piped one of the helpers.
"Yes?" asked the Trainer.
"You were discussing some shoe brand"
"Oh yeah, she said she was saddened that her favorite shoe brand was going out of sale, and I told her that they weren't. They're only out of sale in some countries, not this one, so she didn't have to worry." Alex looked puzzled. "She was offended by that?".
"Apparently" the helper shrugged. Alex was annoyed. If people are that easily offended, it didn't seem like there was much she could do.
"I'll try" Alex said shortly. "Is that all?".
"Yes, for now" the Trainer replied.
A couple of days went, and when Alex came back for the next game, she noticed that they hadn't moved her locker back to the players room yet. The Trainer approached her and said;
"I was thinking about moving the locker before the game today, and explain to the whole team that you're not a helper anylonger."
Alex looked at the Trainer, who just smiled an honest smile at her.
"You want to move my locker in front of the whole team, publicly humiliating me? In what way will that make people like me more, or be for my benefit, as you claim this to be?".
"You think it's a bad idea?" the Trainer asked, and looked sincerely confused.
"I think the whole idea is a bad idea, and making it when everyone can see it is just adding insult to injury. I truly don't see the point in that" Alex answered, puzzled that the Trainer didn't see that.
"Oh ok, well then I'll just do it when no one is here."
"Thank you" Alex said.
The game went on without much trouble, but during half-time, the Trainer waved at her to come see him again.
"What the HELL was that?!" he yelled at her. Alex just looked confused at him.
"What was what?"
"What you just said out there, completely unacceptable!"
Alex stared at him.
"You mean when I explained why Tomas and Michael fell? Because of the muddy grass?"
"Yes, I told you not to comment on the game, didn't I? People will be offended again!"
"Are you serious? In what way can my comment on the bad weather be offending to people?" Alex was getting angry. This was completely absurd.
"You know it doesn't matter what you say!" the Trainer yelled. Alex took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry, I won't censor every damn word I say. If people are that sensitive, that's frankly their problem. I couldn't care less. Listen to yourself Trainer. Who is bullying who right now? Now if you excuse me". Alex ran out to the game again.
Her locker was moved. She didn't really care. It wasn't the fact that she wasn't a helper anylonger, because frankly it didn't differ much whether she was or not. It was the fact that she was allowed to be treated this way because of some feeling someone had of her. Someone who had decided it was a better solution to have the Trainer punish her instead of trying to solve it by talking to her directly. Alex decided to act as if nothing had happened. She couldn't care less for such behavior, and actually thought it was rather fascinating that the Trainer claimed this to be for her sake, for her benefit. She really thought he believed he was doing the right thing, when instead he had just told the entire team that through extortion and power you can get your way, no matter what way that was. She had no old friends in the team anylonger since they had moved to another team, so he'd probably thought it was an easy thing to have Alex sacrifice herself a little to make the other ones happy. But where to draw the line?
A couple of days later, Sandra approached Alex.
"Can I talk to you?" she asked. Alex was confused, had she said something wrong again?
"Yeah sure" she said, bracing herself.
"Well you know the other day when I was discussing positions on the field?" Sandra asked, and Alex nodded.
"Apparently Emma was offended by what I said, and now she is talking shit about me behind my back! I really didn't mean to offend anyone... what should I do?".
Alex tried to suppress a gloating smile. She actually felt sorry for Sandra. Maybe there really was something like Karma. Didn't she realize that what she just had put Alex through, had happened to herself? But she also had an opportunity to make things right, hopefully. She gave Sandra a nudge on the shoulder and said;
"Ignore it. Things like this happen now and then. She'll realize it was a misunderstanding. Most of you are new around here and we don't really know eachother well enough to do hasty assumptions about hidden meanings in what we say. We should all really just relax and have fun. Isn't that why we play this game?"
Sandra looked at her and nodded slowly.
"Yeah, I suppose you're right".