Kindness and compassion at work and elsewhere

Dear readers, I’ve collected six previous pieces on kindness and compassion at work and elsewhere. Consider it food for thought as we enter the holiday season!

Valuing kindness over emotional intelligence in today’s workplace (2016) — “For years I’ve exhorted the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace. But Bariso’s piece reminds us that a high EQ isn’t enough. By contrast, Rex Huppke, writing for the Chicago Tribune, suggests that kindness and being ‘a decent human being’ will contribute to better, more successful workplaces . . .”

Not-so-random acts of kindness for the non-saintly among us (2015) — “Last November, I was crossing the street near Boston’s Faneuil Hall when I saw a man huddled in a blanket, shuffling past me in the opposite direction. I caught a glimpse of his eyes for only a second, but I could see a lot of sadness in them. When I got to the other side, I turned around and watched him make his way to a public bench, where he sat and seemed to just stare down. . . . “

Cultivating heart quality in professional practices (2015) — “Carolyn Thomas, a heart attack survivor and women’s health advocate, writes about the importance of kindness in health care practice in her popular Heart Sisters blog, starting with a story about her visit to the emergency room and subsequent placement in the cardiac care unit . . . .”

Does “mainstream indifference” undermine compassion and dignity at work? (2015) — “In The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning (2004), home-brewed philosopher Charles D. Hayes (and one of my favorite authors) writes about how “mainstream indifference” fuels a lack of compassion and kindness in our society. . . .”

Imagining the “compassionate mind” at work (2013) — “In a thoughtful, compelling piece on the ‘compassionate mind,’ Dr. Emma Seppala draws together a wealth of research and analysis on the role on compassion — defined ‘as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help’ — in advancing the human condition.”

A 12-step program for compassion (2010) — “Karen Armstrong is a noted author on religious affairs. Her latest book is Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (2010), a mix of faith, philosophy, and self-help. In it, she offers a 12-step program to help make the world a more compassionate place . . . .”

Dignity work

(image courtesy of clipart panda.com)

I’ve been toying with a simple phrase lately: Dignity work. What does it mean? How might we define it? What if we made the nurturing of dignity our primary purpose as human beings? What kind of world would we see?

I see at least two angles on this:

First, we can look at dignity work through a lens of whether the core qualities of our labors — paid, unpaid, and volunteer alike — affirm, support, or advance human dignity.

Second, we can look at dignity work through a lens of whether we, as individuals, conduct ourselves in ways that affirm, support, or advance human dignity.

In considering these two possibilities, I suggest that we define dignity broadly, as a quality that embraces the better angels of our nature, to borrow from Abraham Lincoln. Providing attentive and loving caregiving to another is an obvious example of both strands of dignity work. But so is, say, starting a business that serves a community’s needs and treats its employees well, or creating an inclusive network or group devoted to a creative endeavor.

We live in a world where dignity is too often neglected in favor of raw exercises of power and the quest for profits, at times to the points of abuse and exploitation. In the meantime, opportunities to engage dignity work are all around us. We have choices.

Sarkis: How to identify a gaslighter

Joining the growing literature on gaslighting behaviors is Dr. Stephanie Sarkis’s Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People — and Break Free (2018). Sarkis is both a counselor and a mediator, and her experiences in clinical practice brought gaslighting and gaslighters to her attention. The results of her work make for this welcomed contribution to our understanding.

Dr. Sarkis writes:

Gaslighters will convince us that we are crazy, that we are abusive, that we are a huge bundle of problems and no one else will want us, that we are terrible employees who haven’t been fired yet just by the grace of God, that we are terrible parents who shouldn’t have had children, that we have no idea how to manage our own life, or that we are a burden to others. They are toxic.

…Gaslighters use your own words against you; plot against you, lie to your face, deny your needs, show excessive displays of power, try to convince you of “alternative facts,” turn family and friends against you — all with the goal of watching you suffer, consolidating their power, and increasing your dependence on them.

But wait, there’s a lot more. Among other things, in a chapter titled “Who, me?,” Sarkis asks her readers to confront the ugly question: Am I a gaslighter? Consider these queries, adapted from pp. 204-205:

  • Do I lie often, “even when lying doesn’t serve a purpose”?
  • Do I avoid being direct in sharing my needs, instead expecting people to read my mind and know what I want — and then being upset at them for not knowing?
  • Do I not know my own needs?
  • Do I try to get people to do want I want, “instead of just directly asking them”?
  • Do I not tell people what I want, then get back at them for not providing it?
  • Do I get frustrated when others take more time than they should to do what I’d like?
  • Do others tell me that my “tone of voice is sarcastic or rough”?
  • Do I “have a short temper”?
  • Do I “black out” and forget things I did when I was in an angry state?
  • Do I see people as being “mainly selfish and out for their own needs”?

For those who answer “yes” to a lot of these questions, Sarkis offers compassionate, direct advice, rather than judgment.

Gaslighting joins Dr. Robin Stern’s excellent The Gaslight Effect (2018 ed.) (discussed earlier this year) in providing wise, accessible insights on gaslighting behaviors, their impacts, and how to respond to them. Although both books focus more on interpersonal relationships, those who are interested in bullying, mobbing, and other forms of psychological abuse at work will find plenty of relevant information and observations.

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Related posts

Institutional gaslighting of whistleblowers (2018)

Reissued for 2018: Robin Stern’s “The Gaslight Effect” (2018)

Gaslighting at work (2017, rev. 2018)

Inauguration Week special: “Gaslighting” goes mainstream (2017)

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012, rev. 2017)

 

When diversity issues emerge, bullying often lurks underneath

Last week, NBC News cancelled the “Megyn Kelly Today” show days after Kelly made racially insensitive remarks about wearing blackface for Halloween. As reported by Megan McCluskey for Time magazine:

Amid growing controversy over Megyn Kelly’s racially insensitive comments about blackface, NBC News has announced that it has canceled Kelly‘s 9 a.m. hour of the Today Show, Megyn Kelly Today.

. . . Kelly came under fire earlier this week for saying that she doesn’t understand why blackface Halloween costumes are racist during a roundtable discussion on offensive costumes on her talk show, Megyn Kelly Today.

“What is racist?” she asked a panel that included Jenna Bush Hager, Jacob Soboroff and Melissa Rivers. “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was okay just as long as you were dressing as a character.”

One can make a plausible claim that cancellation was a harsh consequence for one badly misinformed and ignorant remark. After all, Kelly’s transgression paled next to virulently mean-spirited statements tweeted out by Donald Trump on a regular basis. However, many news reports have suggested that this may have been simply a tipping point preceded by other concerns about her show. Among other things, while Kelly has become a strong voice for women’s interests during the #MeToo era, she also has a history of stirring up controversy on matters related to race.

In any event, as I searched around to learn more about Kelly’s situation, I found an earlier news report that reminded me once again that when diversity-related concerns publicly emerge out of a given workplace, allegations of bullying behaviors often aren’t far behind. From January of this year, here is Emily Smith’s Page Six account of a “Megyn Kelly Today” writer who lost his job after complaining of alleged bullying behaviors faced by staffers: 

A top staffer on Megyn Kelly’s show has been fired after claiming there is a “toxic and demeaning” environment on set, rife with bullying and “abusive treatment.”

Kevin Bleyer was fired as a writer from “Megyn Kelly Today” this week after complaining that Kelly’s two top execs, Jackie Levin and Christine Cataldi, were bullying lower-level members of staff.

. . . Bleyer — a multiple Emmy-winning former writer for “The Daily Show” and speechwriter for President Barack Obama — on Tuesday sent the email to NBC News human resources, and was fired shortly after.

He wrote in the memo, revealed by the Daily Mail,“I’m sad to say … the executive incompetence continues — as does the dysfunctional management, abusive treatment, maddening hypocrisy, staggering inefficiencies, acidic and deficient communication, and relentless scapegoating. Jackie Levin persists in creating a toxic and demeaning environment, and Christine Cataldi enables and reinforces it.”

He claims Cataldi regularly calls her assistant “an idiot,” and when he offered suggestions for the show, Levin called him a “f–king whiner.”

At times there’s a more direct connection between the diversity-related behaviors and workplace bullying. As I reported earlier this year, Tom Ashbrook, a popular public radio program host here in Boston, was fired for engaging in bullying behaviors after initially being accused of sexual harassment. In the same piece, I wrote about how Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, an accused serial sexual harasser, has also been tagged as a bullying boss.

Learning Mind: Deep vs. shallow people

From the Learning Mind site comes this neat little piece about the traits that distinguish deep from shallow people:

We talk about deep people and shallow people all the time, but what does it really mean to be deep and how can we cultivate this depth?

The article cites five primary traits of deep people:

  • “Deep people see beyond appearances”
  • “Deep people don’t believe everything they hear or read”
  • “Deep people listen more than they speak”
  • “Deep people think through the consequences of their behavior”
  • “Deep people try to get past their egos”

The piece goes into greater detail on each of these five traits. It’s well worth a click and a quick read.

Applied to organizational leaders

Think about the leaders at workplaces that you’ve experienced. Take some close looks at our civic and political leaders. How do they stack up against these five traits?

I think it’s pretty obvious that quality leaders have these traits in abundance. The not-so-good leaders come up short.

Of course, these are great qualities for all of us to emulate, both at work and in our personal lives. Sometimes simple lists like this one offer some big lessons.

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Hat tip to Del Carmen for the Learning Mind piece.

Toxic workplace cultures and bullying at work

Those who have studied workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse know very well that these behaviors are often stoked by toxic organizational cultures. Today I emphasized that theme in a presentation at a workplace mental health seminar hosted by The Conference Board (TCB), “a global, independent business membership and research association working in the public interest.”

I built my remarks around the concept of relational workplace cultures so brilliantly developed by Drs. Linda Hartling and Elizabeth Sparks in their 2002 paper, “Relational-Cultural Practice: Working in a Nonrelational World” (2002), which I’ve referenced on numerous occasions on this blog.  (Linda Hartling is the current director of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network.)

According to Hartling and Sparks, a “relational” culture is one that values “growth-fostering relationships, mutual empathy, mutuality, [and] authenticity,” creating qualities of “zest, empowerment, clarity, sense of worth, and a desire for more connection.”

By contrast, three types of “non-relational cultures” hurt morale and productivity:

  • “traditional hierarchical” cultures that emphasize top-down power;
  • “pseudo-relational” cultures that value superficial “niceness” over constructive change; and,
  • brute “survival” cultures that pit everyone against one another in the quest for status and institutional spoils.

These three types of non-relational workplace cultures, I suggested, are likely to enable bullying and related behaviors at work. “Traditional hierarchical” cultures especially promote direct, top-down bullying. “Pseudo-relational” cultures especially enable indirect, passive-aggressive forms of bullying. “Survival” cultures fuel all types of bullying and mobbing behaviors.

Ideally, the best way to prevent and discourage work abuse is to create a relational culture. That includes nurturing civility, encouraging responsible speech, and applying the Golden Rule. However, when workplace behavior becomes targeted and abusive, firm interventions are necessary.

Of course, I also mentioned the need for stronger legal protections for bullied workers, in the form of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

Many thanks to TCB program director John Brewer and event coordinator Amanda Edmonds for the kind invitation to participate in this event. I’ll have more to say about this excellent seminar in a future post.

 

Creating a society grounded in human dignity

A Sunday morning contemplation from Boston: How can we envision a society that embraces human dignity? I’ve gathered some wise words from four individuals, all of whom have been featured on this blog before, to help fuel our thoughts on this question.

Evelin Lindner

Evelin Lindner is the founder of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS), a global, transdisciplinary, non-profit network of scholars, practitioners, artists, activists, and students who are committed to advancing human dignity and reducing the experience of humiliation in society. (Note: I serve on the HumanDHS board of directors.) A self-styled global citizen who writes, lectures, and engages in dialogues around the world, Lindner urges us to start with the principle of equal dignity for all. In her latest book, Honor, Humiliation, and Terror: An Explosive Mix And How We Can Diffuse It with Dignity (2017), she writes:

I have coined the term egalization to match the word globalization and at the same time differentiate it from terms such as equality or equity. …The term egalization is short for equal dignity for all. It does not claim that everybody should become equal and that there should be no differences between people. Equal dignity can coexist with functional hierarchy as long as it regards all participants as equal in dignity; it cannot coexist, though, with a hierarchy that defines some people as lesser beings and others as higher beings.

Robert Fuller

Robert Fuller, a physicist, human rights advocate, and former Oberlin College president, calls for the building of a “dignitarian” society that embraces individual dignity. In his 2006 book All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity, Fuller writes that the main obstacle to creating a dignitarian society is the ongoing presence of “rankism,” which he defines as “abuses of power associated with rank.”

Rankism may grounded in demographic constructs such as race, sex, or age, as well as general hierarchies in “schools, businesses, health care organizations, religious institutions, the military, and government bureaucracies.” Fuller asserts that reducing rankism and unnecessary hierarchy will help to create a society that values human dignity.

Bertram Gross

Especially because of current political conditions in the U.S., the late Bertram Gross’s book, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (1982), is attracting a lot of attention for its assessment of how political and economic forces have created a form of “friendly fascism” in America. As a contrast, Gross also identified a secondary social and political movement grounded in community and service:

The other is a slower and less powerful tendency for individuals and groups to seek greater participation in decisions affecting themselves and others. This trend goes beyond mere reaction to authoritarianism. It transcends the activities of progressive groups or movements and their use of formal democratic machinery. It is nourished by establishment promises – too often rendered false – of more human rights, civil rights and civil liberties. It is embodied in larger values of community, sharing, cooperation, service to others and basic morality as contrasted with crass materialism and dog-eat-dog competition. It affects power relations in the household, workplace, community, school, church, synagogue, and even the labyrinths of private and public bureaucracies.

John Ohliger

Finally, for a slightly more impressionistic view, I appeal to the work of a dear late friend, John Ohliger, co-founder of a small, community-based think tank in Madison, Wisconsin called Basic Choices in the mid-1970s. In a  1982 essay, “Adult Education in a World of Excessive riches/Excessive Poverty,” John shared a vision of society that ran counter to the technocratic, materialistic forces that were garnering power:

My picture is of a future where we live more relaxed and more modest lives with an abundance of unmeasurable and infinitely available non-material (or better, trans-material) resources. All the travail and pressure we’re going through right now may be paving the way for that future. This future could be one where we will have a choice of “goodies”; not ones requiring scarce energy, minerals, or dollars; or ones permitting some people to get rich while others go hungry, but choices that we create with our own hearts and heads and hands among people we know and care for.

Ohliger’s essay preceded the advent of the digital age by roughly a decade and thus may sound positively Luddite in light of today’s gadgeted and wired world. Nevertheless, his core vision of a less materialistic society where we lead “more relaxed and modest lives” is enormously appealing.

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The main focus of much of my work is on how to use law and public policy to advance human dignity. Of course, there are limits to how the law may shape a society committed to affirming human dignity. The state of having one’s dignity, and the act of conferring dignity upon another, require human interactions that go far beyond public mandates. However, it is also the case that our laws reflect our core values as a society, and to that extent our legal and policymaking systems can play their respective roles in advancing dignity and reducing denials of the same.

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This post is an edited passage from my forthcoming journal article, “On Anger, Shock, Fear, and Trauma: Therapeutic Jurisprudence as a Response to Dignity Denials in Public Policy,” to be published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. You may freely download my author’s draft of the piece here.

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