“Members Who Inspire” profile in ABA Journal

The latest issue of the ABA Journal, the membership magazine of the American Bar Association, includes a generous profile of my work on workplace bullying and on therapeutic jurisprudence, as the latest in its “Members Who Inspire” series. You may access an online version of the article by Amanda Robert, “David Yamada is fighting to end workplace bullying,” by going here.

In addition, the ABA Journal invited me to contribute a short sidebar advice piece for legal employers on how to address workplace bullying. You may access “6 ways to fight workplace bullying in legal spaces” here.

I am grateful for Amanda Robert’s feature article and laudatory comments in the piece from Dr. Gary Namie (co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute) and Prof. David Wexler (co-founder of the field of therapeutic jurisprudence), two long-time dear colleagues whose pioneering work has inspired mine.

Music as therapy

My morning routine usually involves clicking around to a lot of newspapers and news sites to assess the state of things. I’m pretty good at understanding that typical daily news coverage is going to emphasize conflicts, challenges, and problems. But today’s flyover underscored my feeling that our chances to get things right are dwindling on so many levels.

In search of a positive mood fix, I went to YouTube in search of my favorite music video, that of the incomparable British pianist Jack Gibbons playing his singularly brilliant rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” (link here). It’s fourteen sublime minutes. I have played this video — or favorite parts of it — countless dozens of times, and it never fails to bring my spirit into a different, better space.

I am hardly alone in recognizing the therapeutic gifts of music. As explained on one health care site (link here):

“Across the history of time, music has been used in all cultures for healing and medicine,” explains health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, PhD. “Every culture has found the importance of creating and listening to music. Even Hippocrates believed music was deeply intertwined with the medical arts.”

Scientific evidence suggests that music can have a profound effect on individuals – from helping improve the recovery of motor and cognitive function in stroke patients, reducing symptoms of depression in patients suffering from dementia, even helping patients undergoing surgery to experience less pain and heal faster. And of course, it can be therapeutic.

So, if you find your spirits flagging for any reason, then you might try listening to — or even singing or performing — some of your favorite music. It may not change the extant circumstances that sent you into a bluer state, but it might help to lift you out of it.

***

P.S. Oh, and a story about Jack Gibbons. For years I had said that one of my time travel fantasies would be to find myself in the New York City concert hall where Gershwin first performed “Rhapsody in Blue” in 1924. In 1998, I was attending a continuing legal education program in Oxford, England, and saw a poster promoting a Gibbons concert featuring Gershwin music. I was unfamiliar with Gibbons at the time, but I bought myself a ticket. Was I in for a treat?! His finishing number at the end of this glorious concert was “Rhapsody in Blue.” I told friends that I now know what it felt like to hear Gershwin perform it back in 1924.

As the holidays approach, let’s consider how to live meaningful lives

The historic Old South Meeting House, Boston, Dec. 2013 (photo: DY)

As we approach the holiday season in a world of social, political, and pandemic tumult, it’s understandable and even sensible that many folks may feel more reflective than celebratory. Among the worthy topics of contemplation is how to find meaning in our lives.

Dr. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1956) is one of the most personally influential books that I’ve ever read. Frankl was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor who lost almost all of his immediate family in the Holocaust. The first part of the book details his concentration camp experiences. The second part explains his theory of counseling, called logotherapy. Frankl believed that life’s essence is about a search for meaning: “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

In a recent piece for The Atlantic titled “Three Simple Ways to Find the Meaning in Life” (link here), Arthur C. Brooks summarizes a 2016 research study that identified three key dimensions for living a meaningful life:

If you haven’t yet found a sense of meaning at all, how do you go about searching for it without searching too much?…You can do so most effectively—and without too much obsessing—by assessing your life along three dimensions, which the psychologists Frank Martela and Michael F. Steger defined in The Journal of Positive Psychology in 2016:

  • Coherence: how events fit together. This is an understanding that things happen in your life for a reason. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can fit new developments into your narrative the moment they happen, but you usually are able to do so afterward, so you have faith that you eventually will.
  • Purpose: the existence of goals and aims. This is the belief that you are alive in order to do something. Think of purpose as your personal mission statement, such as “the purpose of my life is to share the secrets to happiness” or “I am here to spread love abundantly.”
  • Significance: life’s inherent value. This is the sense that your life matters. If you have high levels of significance, you’re confident that the world would be a tiny bit—or perhaps a lot—poorer if you didn’t exist.

Both Frankl’s and Brooks’s summaries may sound a tad abstract. They need examples from our lives, which is where we add in our own content — or create new content. For folks who have been around the block a few times, that new content may include recovering from adversity and doing life and career resets.

Given the readership of the blog, which includes many people who have experienced severe abuse at work and other forms of mistreatment, I’ve repeatedly invoked individuals such as Viktor Frankl and Dr. Edith Eger, another Holocaust survivor who became a trauma therapist, author, and public speaker:

  • “After Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl saw only two races” (2017) (link here)
  • “Viktor Frankl on finding meaning in the face of great adversity” (2016) (link here)
  • “Life lessons from Dr. Edith Eger, Auschwitz survivor” (2018) (link here)
  • “Dr. Edith Eger’s The Choice: On trauma and healing” (2017) (link here)

If choice or circumstance finds you leaning more towards reflection than merriment this holiday season, then may it lead to a better and meaningful year to come. For additional food for thought, you might also check out these past cogitations on the meaning of life:

  • “Charles Hayes on the ripples of our lives” (2016) (link here)
  • “Defining, refining, creating, and redefining your ‘body of work'” (2015) (link here)
  • “Holiday reads: Fueling heart, mind, and soul” (2014) (link here)
  • “Transitions and inner callings” (2014) (link here)
  • “Chris Guillebeau’s advice: Do your own annual review” (2014) (link here)
  • “Holiday reflections: The end of limitless possibilities (and that’s good)” (2013) (link here)
  • “What is a ‘Ulyssean adult,’ and how can you become one?” (2012) (link here)

 

If you’re seeking resources on workplace bullying, then check out the updated “Need Help?” page

Dear readers, I’ve revised and updated my “Need Help?” resources page (link here) for folks who are dealing with workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse situations. Although the bulk of the listings are for workers who are experiencing bullying at work (and those who are supporting them), I’ve also added a short section for employers who wish to address these behaviors.

I hope these listings are helpful. Please feel free to share this page with others who might benefit from it.

Why Workplace Bullying University?

After a brief hiatus, Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, will be offering a new session of Workplace Bullying University (link here) — an immersive and interactive graduate-level program on the dynamics of workplace bullying — during the weekends of January 8-9 and January 22-23, 2022. The session will be offered exclusively by Zoom.

As both a graduate of, and past participant in, this program, I can attest that it is a singularly valuable educational experience for anyone who wishes to do workplace anti-bullying work as part of their professional practices or as dedicated volunteer service. Here is a snippet of how the program is described:

The only research-driven, comprehensive curriculum on the topic in the world. Digital content – program slides, ancillary videos and audio files, and an extensive collection of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and book chapters – to enrich the take-home learning experience. Think of it as a graduate school seminar with lively interaction with all of your questions answered

This is not an inexpensive program, and it’s a considerable investment of time and attention as well. But if you’re a steady reader of this blog, then you may have seen previous entries discussing the importance of gaining specialized knowledge about workplace bullying if one wants to get deeply involved in this work. Furthermore, although being bullied at work certainly yields understandings and insights about this phenomenon, it is unwise to do anti-bullying work while assuming that one’s own experience is necessarily a universal one. After all, workplace abuse comes in many different shapes and sizes.

In sum, Workplace Bullying University provides the broader, deeper, research-based foundation for doing work in this realm. It delivers a wealth of content, insight, and informed conversation, led by the leading North American expert on the topic.

If you’re wondering whether this program is for you, then these two past blog articles may be helpful:

  • “How can I make a living doing workplace anti-bullying work? (2019) (link here)
  • Workplace Bullying University, “All Star” edition (2019) (link here)

Trending on workplace bullying (Fall 2021)

(image courtesy of clipart-library.com)

Hello dear readers, this morning I took a quick look at my blog stats, wondering what older posts about workplace bullying and related topics have been attracting attention during the fall. Here’s what came up, excluding posts that I have re-shared more recently:

Institutional gaslighting of whistleblowers (2018) (link here)

On the dynamics of “puppet master” bullying at work (2018) (link here)

Gaslighting at work (2017, rev. 2018) (link here)

Workplace bullying, psychological trauma, and the challenge of storytelling (2016) (link here)

Workplace bullying, blackballing, and the eliminationist instinct (2015) (link here)

Workplace bullying as crazy making abuse (2014) (link here)

When superficial civility supports workplace abusers (and their enablers) (2014) (link here)

Bullying of volunteers (2013) (link here)

Dealing with “gatekeepers” at work: Beware of Dr. No (2011, rev. 2020) (link here

When the bullying comes from a board member (2011, rev. 2017) (link here)

Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector (2011, rev. 2016) (link here)

Is emotional detachment an antidote for a nasty workplace? (2010, rev. 2016) (link here)

Is the college admissions essay the first step toward a life of posturing and inauthenticity?

One of my favorite journals, The Hedgehog Review, devotes the bulk of its current issue (link here) to the theme of authenticity. I concede that among the pieces, Joseph E. Davis’s “How to Be Yourself,” a contemplation on college admissions essays (link here), immediately jumped out at me. Davis, a sociologist (U. of Virginia), quickly grasps the twist of high school students writing personal statements for college applications, with the help of tutors urging them to be their authentic selves:

But the story is about you, about what is important to you, about what makes you unique. On that topic, you’re the foremost expert. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, judging from the burgeoning industry offering specialized instruction to college applicants in how to write a successful personal essay (or “personal statement”). Curiously, the mandate to “just be yourself” is what makes the writing most challenging.

…The college prep advisers, as well as the few academic studies, make it clear that writing an “authentic essay” is a primarily rhetorical task, aimed to persuade skeptical third-party readers who have standards and expectations regarding what counts as uniqueness and are looking for the expression of specific values and self-transformation. The prep advisers also let students—and their parents—in on the rules of genuineness, stressing that its successful performance must never appear contrived, even as they offer advice on what it means for students to “be themselves.”

I submit that for some young people, the drafting of these personal statements, shaped and edited by professionals who know all the magic buzzwords that warm the hearts of admissions committees, is the first step toward a life of posturing and inauthenticity that may reap rewards time and again.

Please don’t get me wrong. There are lots of folks who succeed with their authenticity intact. However, we live in a time where processed and contrived sincerity often works just as well as the real thing. 

I’ve seen these patterns play out in the academic workplace, where people who have honed their ability to sell themselves in interviews despite modest qualifications sometimes get leadership jobs over more qualified, but less charismatic, candidates. In some cases, horrible results ensue because the hired individual is mostly flash and little substance. To adapt a friend’s insightful saying, bad things can happen when the job goes to the show horse instead of the work horse.

This dynamic also has powerful social class impacts. By and large, the kids whose families can afford standardized test prep courses and tutors are the same ones who benefit from coaching on their personal statements, courtesy of college prep consultants. Providing this comparative advantage is a great way of blocking social and economic mobility early on.

***

Over the years, I’ve periodically revisited themes of authenticity at work and elsewhere. You might find these pieces interesting:

On living an “undivided life” (2019) (link here)

Organizational authenticity and workplace bullying (2017) (link here)

Instead of lies, spin, and deception, how about authenticity, integrity, and dignity? (2016) (link here)

Posturing vs. authenticity in our work lives (2014) (link here)

Inauthenticity and the fast track to a midlife crisis (2013) (link here)

Sidebar: In praise of lifelong learning

Hello dear readers, I’m offering a bit of a Sunday sidebar for those of you who are lifelong learners, always thirsting to gain new understandings about topics that draw your attention. Earlier this year, I quietly launched another blog, More Than A Song: Adventures in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education (link here). I thought that some of you might want to take a closer look.

I post to More Than A Song occasionally and, concededly, somewhat erratically. It’s part of an ongoing project to squeeze in more writing about the importance of lifelong learning and to share some personal experiences in that realm.

Here’s a sampling of pieces so far:

Aristotle’s invitation to consider the people and events material to our lives

On developing a global orientation

Go online to take free courses from leading professors

Lifelong learning by reviving a boyhood hobby

Studying the Great Books at the University of Chicago

Anyway, I just thought I’d share this with you. Perhaps it will provide some interesting reading as the weekend comes to a close. There’s a “SUBSCRIBE” button on the right-hand column of the blog if you’d like to receive new entries.

Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week 2021: “All the Pieces Matter”

For years, the Workplace Bullying Institute has been sponsoring Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week (link here), which provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon and grow a larger movement addressing workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse. In attempting to capture the ongoing challenge before us, I found myself drawn to the title of a book about one of my favorite television series, All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire (2018), by Jonathan Abrams.

I’ll have more to say about The Wire and that book below, but for now let’s zero in on its title: All the Pieces Matter. Exactly. This work continues to be informed by intersecting systems of employment relations, mental health counseling, and law and public policy, to name a few.

In our co-edited book set, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (2019), Dr. Maureen Duffy and I included a final chapter attempting to frame a broad agenda for addressing these forms of interpersonal abuse over the long haul. We identified these core areas as focal points:

  • Encouraging organizational prevention and responses;
  • Building a cadre of trauma-informed mental health counselors and coaches who understand bullying and mobbing;
  • Enacting and implementing laws and public policies designed to address abuse at work;
  • Changing workplace standards to embrace values-driven cultures;
  • Working towards a more “dignitarian” society inside and outside of our workplaces.

In other words, we’re talking about various systems, which leads me…

…Back to The Wire and All the Pieces Matter

The Wire is a drama series set in Baltimore that ran on HBO from 2002 to 2008. Starting with an initial focus on policing and the drug trade that threads throughout the series, it then takes deep looks into blue-collar work at the city’s docks, public education, urban politics, and the media. Overall, The Wire is driven by characters and their stories, all of which interact with powerful, interwoven systems that are hugely resistant to change.

With intricate storylines that develop slowly and require a viewer’s close attention to follow, The Wire attracted mixed reviews at first, and it never drew a large audience. However, by the end of its run, it had become recognized as one of the best dramas ever. Since then, The Wire has been the rare television program whose afterlife has accorded it the status of a classic.

At the center of The Wire is its brilliant creator, David Simon, who envisioned the series as a form of dramatic social commentary that raises questions about effecting change. While reading All the Pieces Matter, I found some of his quotes very relevant to the core subject matter of this blog. Let me explain.

Bullying and mobbing are, of course, the sum of individual behaviors. In addition, they are enabled, protected, and sometimes encouraged by systems (or cultures, if you will) that reflect certain values and power dynamics. In All the Pieces Matter, David Simon said this about the challenges of reforming systems:

The things that reform systems are trauma. Great trauma. Nobody gives up status quo without being pushed to the wall. I believe that politically. The great reformations of society are the result of undue excess and undue cruelty. The reason you have collective bargaining in America and it became powerful is that workers were pushed to the starvation point. The reason that you have the civil rights we do is that people were hanging from trees.

Simon expressed optimism that individuals can change, while sharing significant doubts that systems can self-reform. Rather, he said, systemic change requires outside pressure and awareness of trauma that cut through inhumanity or indifference.

So that’s how David Simon, The Wire, and All the Pieces Matter help to inform my perspectives on how we address interpersonal abuse at work. We are talking about systems that are very resistant to change. Some of the most powerful stakeholders actually benefit from the status quo of allowing abuse to go unchecked. Accordingly, citing the trauma and destruction of bullying and mobbing at work, it’s up to us to articulate a continuing, compelling, and responsibly bold call for systemic changes and positive evolutions. 

When workplace bullies try to turn the tables

(Image courtesy of clipart-library.com)

Some workplace aggressors are expert at turning tables against their targets, claiming victimhood even as they continue to abuse. Here is a collection of past articles discussing these tactics, the underlying organizational dynamics, and possible responses.

Workplace bullies claim victim status: Avoiding the judo flip (2013) (link here) — One of the most popular posts on this blog, suggesting ways to prevent bullies from claiming victimhood.

Workplace bullying, DARVO, and aggressors claiming victim status (2019) (link here) — Applying Dr. Jennifer Freyd’s pathbreaking work on DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender) to workplace bullying.

The bullied and the button pushers (2014) (link here) — Button pushers are experts at triggering targets to lash out, followed by their claims of victimization.

When superficial civility supports workplace abusers (and their enablers) (2014) (link here) — Expert button pushers can use organizational embraces of superficial civility to accuse targets of unfair criticism.

Workplace bullying as crazy making abuse (2014) (link here) — A quick summary of tactics associated with table turning.

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