*Milo, a GCC F-1 visa student, stuck his head into my office in the international education program one day and said, “Can I see you for a second?” He closed the door behind him (an unusual act unless there is a highly serious issue to discuss) so I was expecting the worst. But instead, Milo asked, “What’s a Dilbert?” “A Dilbert?” I repeated. “Yes, a Dilbert. An American student over in the high-tech center just called me a Dilbert.” Unfortunately, it’s not entirely unusual for international students to consult me about matters of this nature (bullying, comments, teasing). Upon arrival in America, they must traverse a sometimes unfamiliar and hostile terrain. Of course, I knew of the cartoon character, and knew that to call someone a Dilbert was considered an insult. But how was I going to explain this one? Initially, I Googled pictures of Dilbert to show to Milo, and wouldn’t you know it? The very first image I clicked on downloaded a computer virus. I myself had just been Dilberted! Through Wikipedia, I ascertained that Dilbert is a “fictional character…who has a rare medical condition…utter social ineptitude.” But I also found out that Dilbert is a graduate from MIT with a degree in electrical engineering, and an employee with good ideas (though seldom pursued because “he is powerless”). Dilbert’s creator, Scott Adams, penned, “Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human relationships. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can’t handle the truth.”** I learned that “Dilbert has a strong immune system and is therefore less likely to get sick than his co- workers. While in most respects weak and un-athletic, Dilbert is a skilled badminton player…Although he is an excellent worker, and does not stop trying, he acknowledges that this will get him nowhere.” Dilbert’s mother is an adept Scrabble player, and his father has been at a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat restaurant since 1986, where he intends to stay until he’s eaten all that he can eat. Ultimately, the international student and I discovered that Dilbert is an educated, employed and skilled man in excellent health who never stops trying. He has good ideas, and two parents (though, admittedly, one is absentee!). And though it turned out that being called a Dilbert was not the best thing in the world, it was also not the worst, and in the end, the cartoon character (sadly, Dilbert was eventually killed by a wild deer in 1990) acquired two brand new fans!
*Not the student’s real name
**The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions