The New Year Urge to Purge: What to Do Before Workplace ‘New Beginnings’ Become ‘New Endings’

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DUMPEDThe New Year “urge to purge”–or “termination determination”—can be as devastating in its consequences as it is predictable.

New Year’s Eve and the first days that follow it are all too often exploited to callously or belatedly dump somebody. be it a lover, a co-worker, someone who is both, or, perhaps most painfully, if less frequently, an employee or employer (or, rarest of all, a client).

If that New Year kick in the teeth and the butt boot have never been inflicted on you or if you’ve never done it to anyone, surely you know of someone who falls into the booted or booting category.

Without a doubt. you do.

A Cinderella Horror Story: Getting the Boot Instead of the Slipper

I recall consoling a tearful, usually bubbly, bright and thoroughly delightful cousin, then around 20, on New Year’s Eve, who, while putting on the expensive gown she bought for a night at a very upscale restaurant promised by her soon to be ex-boyfriend, got a last-minute, unexpected phone call from him notifying her that the date was off and that he wouldn’t be showing up at all.

He used the  New Year’s Eve fetish and convenience as a wedge and rationalization to make my  cousin’s next few weepy, miserable minutes the last and worst ones of their entire, now freshly destroyed relationship.

Why? Because in the spirit—yes, what he unfathomably regarded as the true spirit—of New Year’s Eve, he had an “out with the old, in with new” brainstorm: Better to start the New Year off right with a brutal, totally insensitive (indeed, heartless) break-up (over no incident, prior quarrel, etc.) as she was putting on that beautiful red dress, than to even hypocritically, if not sincerely, do the thoughtful and ethical thing.

That would have been to keep his promise and her feelings intact for at least another six hours or so. Somehow that emotional imbecile imagined that doing the right thing meant to leave her hanging, emotionally, if not literally, out to cry and dry, as a victim of New Year’s Evil.

Before You Indulge the Urge to Purge

Given horror stories like that one (and assuming mental processes more evolved than those of a sociopath),  if you are planning to dump an employee, an employer, a colleague, a client, a lover, a spouse, a friend, or any combination of these, do the following things before you give them the boot:

1. THINK IT THROUGH INTELLECTUALLY: This means a reality check on your logic, concepts, rationalizations and the rest of your rationality. For example, “I don’t mind giving the boot, so (s)he won’t mind getting the boot.” Not even a nice try. Less transparently illogical: “We have a supply and demand imbalance here. (S)he’s supplying more than I want. So it’s time, right now, in the middle of the holiday, to announce a dramatic slash in my demand, even perhaps to zero, to restore equilibrium or to get back into the market in a new way.”

Then there’s the perennial—in the case of New Year’s, annual—favorite, “It’s time to be honest”, as though honesty has a “good until” expiry date and shelf life, and will, the way in which packaged stuff never does, turn toxic if you wait just a few hours longer. The illogic here is equating delaying the moment of truth with irrevocably denying it.

2. THINK IT THROUGH MORALLY: Honesty is indeed a virtue; but it doesn’t trump all others. Regard for it does not warrant ignoring all other competing or complementary moral duties and rights of the Other that complicate—even if they do not dominate—the situation.

Chief among such considerations is contemplation of the ethically warped idea that two rights (the exercised right to be honest and the mean right hook delivered to the soul) can justify a much, much bigger wrong, e.g., needlessly, if only in terms of timing, breaking a virtually sacred and (for the victim) cherished promise on the eve of its fulfillment.

If you imagine or pretend that you have a preponderating “right to be honest” at someone else’s, not your expense, be honest with yourself and ask whether you also have a preponderating obligation to be so brutally honest. Also note that the trumpeted honesty that jerk was honking and hawking on New Year’s Eve is an outstanding virtue almost always when it is at the expense of the one being honest, not the one being told.

3. THINK IT THROUGH PRAGMATICALLY, STRATEGICALLY, TACTICALLY AND LOGISTICALLY: Dumping anyone is, in addition to the moral, emotional and intellectual considerations and standards addressed in this analysis, also subject to the same standards and consideration of all the factors of pure self-interest as any hard-nosed business decision is.

This includes not just the who, what and why of dumping, but also the how, where and when. Even if you are utterly devoid of empathy, a case for deferring dumping to a (slightly) later time or date is easily made in terms of narrow self interest.

Take, for example, the commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself” or the less challenging, more reasonable “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; now add “Do unto others when, how and where you would have them do unto you.” Implicit in these moral exhortations is the caution that if you do not behave or feel as prescribed, you may experience worldly as well as divine retaliation, i.e., retaliation from both the gods and the people you have failed to treat as you should.

Ponder the warning that “Hell hath no fury” like that of a woman scorned and extrapolate to employees, employers and clients not merely scorned, but also booted at the worst possible time, namely, when expectations and moods are highest. As a minimum, postponing, if not compassionately and thoroughly previewing the boot, may ease the pain you inflict and spare you nasty or worse retaliation.

4. THINK IT THROUGH EMOTIONALLY: This may seem like a contradiction, but thinking things through emotionally is not only possible but is also strongly advised, in the sense of carefully evaluating the emotions that are driving the boot and those it is likely, if not certain, to elicit. It also means closely examining the beliefs and perceptions that are underlying whatever emotional drivers are tempting you to dump someone.

Yes, the brain and the heart are figuratively as well as literally connected: Every emotion that is not drug-induced or an otherwise purely physiological response to some physiological abnormality, such as a deficiency of some trace mineral that inhibits the maternal instinct (as behavior and presumed emotional correlates in cats), is belief-driven.

That this is true should be obvious from even a simple thought experiment: You believe the soft tickling on your arm is caused by a harmless pillow feather; but you look, and see it’s a glossy black large spider. The terror evoked is completely determined by the addition of the visual perception of and beliefs about the cause of the tickling.

This is a suitable illustration of the dynamics of virtually every emotion: Beliefs and perceptions determine emotions; change the former (including the metaphors or analysis you use to describe the cause of the emotions) and you change the latter, e.g., “He’s not lazy; he’s just unengaged.”

Among the core beliefs germane to booting anyone (or to any other decision/action) are beliefs about the relevance of other emotions to the primary emotion you are feeling.

For example, you may feel that your disappointment or, in the extreme, sudden revulsion justifies your immediately, unceremoniously dumping someone—especially if you believe there is no place for softhearted compassion, empathy or even courtesy in any such situation or with such a person.

However, if you morally, intellectually or spiritually pause to remove your steel-tipped boots, meditate upon and consider these beliefs about alternative, relevant emotions, you may find greater warrant and incentives to handle the prospective dumpee differently, e.g., by allowing empathy a role and place beside your emotional negatives in your calculations.

The New Year-Cycle Fetish

The risks of New Year’s Eve are indeed very high, because the “symbolism” of beginning the new and ending the old tempts too many people to end their relationships just before or just after midnight, like a Cinderella story that turns out horribly wrong.

But, the rational mind must ask why we make such a fetish of a natural cycle that, unlike the cycle of farming seasons does not represent some special harvest, abundance, accomplishment or event (since Christmas covers the religious aspect, but for just a subset of the human global population).

Although not an arbitrary cycle, the 365-day solar cycle is, even if literally etched in ancient stone, not otherwise so, with respect to when the year should commence and end, and how much of a fuss should be made about it. It could just as well be called “Nappy New Year”, given how many of us sleep through it or sleep it off.

Besides, there are 364 other possibilities for that date. But that calibration-designation question aside, why force other cycles to fit it—e.g.,an individual’s employment cycle, dating cycles or semi-cycles (for relationships, jobs, etc., that end, but do not begin, on New Year’s Eve or sometime after midnight January 1st ​)?

That makes as much sense as this imaginable exchange between a husband and wife, in some mid-July:

He: “I want a divorce.”

She: “What!…Why?”

He: “The truck’s odometer just clicked off another 365 miles.” (Exits, humming “Auldometer Lang Syne”…)

By Michael Moffa