Do Friends Throw Friends Under the Bus?

Last night, the FPK and I were watching what turned out to be a rerun of the “Last Cake Standing” show on Food Network. It’s one more of their twists on the reality/contest/torture shows, in which bakers and their assistants create honkin big cakes that are artistically amazing. Or not, depending on how well they use their time. This particular episode featured eight of these bakers competing against one another in two teams to create two (rather than eight) cakes.

The losing team had a pretty cool design, but the gal that had volunteered to be the team leader made a decision to build in a safety measure to assure their cake wouldn’t fall apart before the judging. It was wise, in terms of engineering. And she consulted the whole team, as she had been doing all along. In fact, it was quite possibly the best example of team leadership I’ve seen in one of these competitions, where the team-based challenges turn into mini-dramas of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team variety. Like the other team, where two of the four bakers were pretty much shoved off to the side and they ended up with a cake that looked like it had been built by a committee that never met in the same room… but they still won.

It was the next part of the judging that got FPK riled up. They talked to the members of the losing team, and the team leader did what a good leader does. She acknowldged the criticism and stood by her team’s work, as well as their decision. That is, she said to the judges “as the leader, I will take responsibility for the decisions we made together”. Meanwhile, the team member equally at risk of being sent home took every opportunity to undermine and cast blame on the leader. FPK was stunned and peppered me and the tv with questions. “I can’t believe it… what is he doing? Weren’t they on the same team? Wasn’t it actually his design that didn’t work and needed the extra support?”

All I could say was “He threw her under the bus”. I don’t know the etymology of the phrase, but it is such a good word picture for what happens all too often in competitions where people are working/competing in close quarters. When asked to take responsibility, the desire to WIN overrides the call to teamwork or community. And people get tossed aside, placed in harm’s way – sometimes even literally.

Watching the FPK attempt to navigate high school with all of his quirks hasn’t been easy. All too often, “friends” leave him hanging, teachers leave him behind and let’s not even talk about the kids who don’t like him for whatever reason. When you’re the kid who is different… physically, emotionally, culturally, socially… you might as well have the bus schedule in hand to make the tossing more efficient.

But the reality is that in a world like that, you know who your real friends are. They don’t throw you under the bus. And they stand between you and the bullies who would. And if they aren’t physically strong enough to protect you, they speak out boldly on your behalf. Everyone needs a friend like that. Or two or twenty.

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