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SHOW DATE: JANUARY 8, 2014

There’s been a lot of coverage of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who was declared brain dead in December. The controversy arose when Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield started a legal battle to keep Jahi’s breathing apparatus in operation even after she was declared legally dead.

Whether the family should keep her alive or not is not a topic for this article. We’re more focused on the extended family gathered around by Jahi and her parents in news reports. It’s been the same group of people for the past few weeks.

It’s admirable that they’re supporting her. But we can’t help but wonder what these family members do for a living that allows them all this time off. We’re also wondering the position their co-workers and supervisors are put it. Everybody’s going, “OK, we feel really bad for you,” but after some time this begins to shift. We all know this because we’ve experienced it before; the sick relative you have visit or the kid athlete you have to support during meets.

Eventually co-workers start asking, “Where is cousin McMath? Why isn’t he here? Why am I doing his job?” Everybody wants to be supportive, but eventually people stop cheering.

If in a few more weeks the extended family is still on TV, there’s not going to be just one angry, insensitive a-hole on the job—there’s going to be a group of resentful co-workers who are secretly hating that they have to pick up the slack.

The bosses of the extended family members hired them for a reason: to fill a gap in the company. When they’re not on the job, other employees must fill that gap.

At some point, support turns into resentment. They’re tired of you being sick all the time, they’re tired of you being at your son’s events every week. For a little while, they wanted to support you. But now they’re not even talking about it.

In the case of Jahi’s parents, we understand the need to be by her side. But there is another type of person out there, and some of you know who you are: the tragedy/family junkie.

Tragedy/family junkies are easy to spot. They’re the people who need to take a day off to grieve over a train derailment, or attend their kid’s track meet every time. These people are really good at making people feel guilty for not supporting them.

What you don’t realize when you fall into this mind frame is you’re accreting gradual resentment; co-workers will start to ask themselves why they can’t see their ill mother or their daughter’s game. The boss wants to avoid this collective attitude at all costs, and that means eventually firing you if things continue the way they’re going.

There are other ways to give back to people. It’s great to be supportive and attend your kid’s meets, but it’s just as great to be a role model by going to work and getting promoted. If you’re the guy who’s constantly leaving early, you’re not displaying yourself as an exemplar, but someone who lacks leadership qualities and work commitment.

When you do fall into a situation where you have to be there for someone, you can still check in on work. Sitting and staring at the individual is a martyr game: it doesn’t get you anywhere.

You can be present at the bedside while being present on the job with FaceTime or Skype or whatever. This goes for the inverse as well. The McMath extended family can be present at work and, at intervals, check in on Jahi.

Stop playing the tragedy/family junkie card on the job. Co-worker resentment will only be followed by a docked pay or, worse yet, the boot.

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