Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

Avoid The Whiners, Debbie Downers, and Evil Do-Gooders

Like Eeyore, these folks sit in the corner and eat thistles; they sap all energy

You know what I have a lot of trouble with? Professional martyrs. I have a hard time with evil do-gooders. I cannot endure the soulful looks of the wide-eyed self-sacrificers. Like the tragic heroes or heroines of mythology, they seem to reappear everyday at work only to have heartless vultures somehow descend on their entrails plucking them out leaving them eviscerated and helpless. I'm not talking about what we've all grappled with--real depression, sorry, tragedy, imbalances in life we seek to overcome and re-write--but instead I'm talking about the people who always, everywhere, and on every occasion inject misery into life.

You’ll accuse me of being too harsh. You’ll say that their acts of sighing resignation and disappointments both lingering and painful are what give strength to others. You’ll argue that their sincerity and self-abdignation eclipse their endless whining and sighing. You’ll tsk-tsk me for my annoyance at those who are kind and softhearted wrapped up only in the happiness of others, the poor wounded birds who waves away all attempts to rectify a situation with the familiar refrain of “No, it’s all right, it’s just my bad luck. This is the sort of thing that always happens to me.”

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A friend of mine came up with the term “Evil Do-Gooders” when we were preparing for an event following a poetry reading at the university. I suggested we ask one young woman to help plan the dinner after the reading, but Julie quickly pointed out that ”Rosalinda inevitably abused and soured whatever role she was allotted. She agrees to telephone everyone who’s coming to the dinner to find out their preferences,” Julie observed, “And tells them just how difficult it’s been to reach them, and how over-worked she is, and how much is demanded of her. Everybody she speaks to believes she’s both a martyr and a prime-mover, that she’s given everything to The Cause and that nobody else has done a damn thing.” Julie, an efficient, smart, and modest woman is not usually given to such diatribes; I was curious about the source of what seemed at first like an over-reaction. Is wimpy martyrdom really strong enough to merit the term “evil,” I asked.

Julie replied “Absolutely. These folks sigh and whine through every task, wheedle and connive to be complimented on the most trivial matters even when everybody else is already doing twice as much. They control the power because they manipulate their position into one of extraordinary but unrewarded heroism."

They volunteer on a regular basis just in order to be told that they’re too good, too generous, and too nice. Meanwhile, they’re emotional snipers, aiming their brave sighs and insincere smiles at others who are doing the same jobs; they denigrate those who accomplish more with less effort. Their revenge on someone who is faster, smarter, or more accomplished than they are is to damn with faint praise.”

I asked for an example. “When our committee formed, for the express reason of celebrating the successes of women in the profession, asked to be co-chair. She spent all of her time saying, ‘If I could only be as high-powered and driven as these women, I might be recognized as special’ or ‘Too bad I’m still so wrapped up in providing love and care for my family that I can’t get ahead the way these women do.’ She wrote a letter inviting people to an end-of-the-year party which read like a litany for the Evil Do-Gooder society. It opened with the line ‘I write to invite you to a celebration for women who have learned that getting ahead is the main thing in life, a lesson not all of us have learned.’”

When Rosalinda asked to help with the event, therefore, we suggested cheerfully that for once she should attend as one of the honored guests, come to enjoy herself, and leave the work to some new volunteers. Telling her to enjoy herself, Julie laughed, was her own little act of revenge.

These are the people to whom I want to say, “Maybe you should work in a hospital, or in a children's shelter, or even work retail.” If everyday is such a drag, perpetually unsatisfying and inevitably worry of niggling comment, then perhaps they should simply get out more and deal with others who have more and actual need so they can at least make themselves useful.

Constant misery-makers, the "Debbie Downers" in our lives, take their toll. At best, they make us into complainers and whiners, just to keep up (or down) with them--nobody wants to be outdone, even in grizzling. At worst, they force us to see only the unhappiness and unfairness in life--and the small, silly, diminished sorrows and injustices at that. They don't want to be cheered up: they want company and sympathy in their narcissistic doom. Uplift like Kyptonite to these folks.

Like Eeyore, these folks sit in the corner and eat thistles, feeling somehow "uninvited" into the fun. His very presence is a rebuke to those who find life to be both easier and more pleasant. He saps the energy out of the room simply by being in it. It’s not a happy combination.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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