Our New Dark Age of Rage

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When it comes to emotions driving so much of our public discourse and individual decision making these days, rage seems to be all the rage. Anger and vitriol expressed face-to-face and online are often overcoming calmer, kinder, more reasoned voices, sometimes with harsh and even tragic consequences.

Last month, security officers at the Cincinnati Zoo had to kill a beloved gorilla after a young boy had found his way into the animal’s living space. Angry public outcry emerged from certain circles, with some even claiming that the animal should’ve been spared at the expense of the boy.

On June 12, a man apparently fueled by both homophobia and ISIS-inspired rage killed 49 people and injured 53 others at an Orlando nightclub.

Last week, a slight majority of British voters, many of whom were stoked by angry resentment toward immigrants and outsiders, voted for their country to leave the European Union. Now that the predictable and unsettling tidal wave of consequences has been triggered, many of the “leave” voters are asking themselves, what did I do? 

And, of course, there are Donald Trump’s ongoing outbursts, which are calculated to whip up resentment and anger. They are the major reasons why this is the ugliest, most vulgar U.S. presidential campaign in memory.

Folks, it appears that the virulent anger we often see expressed in the comments sections of online news articles and commentary is now coming out from behind the keyboard and manifesting itself in very ugly ways.  How ironic that all of our whiz bang technology is helping to take us back into a New Dark Age of humanity. We can and must do better than this.

 

Published: “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law”

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I’m pleased to report that the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice has published my law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law.” It’s probably the closest thing to an academic autobiography that I’ll ever write, in that it recounts experiences and draws lessons from the work I’ve been doing during the past fifteen years, including workplace bullying, unpaid internships, and workplace dignity in general.

Here’s the posted abstract from my Social Science Research Network (SSRN) page:

Intellectual activism is both a philosophy and a practice for engaging in scholarship relevant to real-world problems and challenges, putting its prescriptions into action, and learning from the process and results of implementation. In the legal context, intellectual activism involves conducting and publishing original research and analysis and then applying that work to the tasks of reforming and improving the law, legal systems, and the legal profession. This article explores the concept and practice of intellectual activism for the benefit of interested law professors, lawyers, and law students.

This is a very personal piece, grounded in extensive scholarly, public education, and advocacy work that I have done in two areas: (1) fostering the enactment of workplace anti-bullying legislation and building public awareness of the phenomenon of bullying at work; and (2) participating in an emerging legal and social movement to challenge the widespread, exploitative practice of unpaid internships. It also discusses my involvement in multidisciplinary networks and institutions that have nurtured my work, examines the relevant use of social media, and provides examples of how law students can function as intellectual activists. This article closes with an Appendix containing a short annotated bibliography of books that are broadly relevant to the topics discussed in the text.

I wrote the article for those who want to use research and analysis to inform and inspire positive social change work, with a special nod to those who work largely outside of the realm of highly elite educational and public policy institutions.

You may obtain a freely downloadable pdf copy of the article from my SSRN page.

Conversations and the construction of knowledge

(image courtesy of ClipArtBest.com)

(image courtesy of ClipArtBest.com)

Okay, dear readers, I’m about to get a little academic geeky on you, but please stick with me on this: In InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing (3rd ed. 2014), co-authors Steinar Kvale and Svend Brinkmann examine the notion of “conversation as a construction site of knowledge.” Invoking this phrase in the context of conducting formal research interviews, they posit that the interactive nature of good conversations can create new knowledge.

This brilliant turn of words was introduced to me by Dr. Maureen Duffy, a leading authority on workplace mobbing and most recently co-author, with Dr. Len Sperry, of the deservedly praised Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014). I’m probably guilty of oversimplifying, but in essence Drs. Kvale and Brinkmann are wrapping some theory around how conversations over ideas, information, insights, and experiences can build and expand our understanding of the human condition.

I have found this to be profoundly true when it comes to learning about the nature of work, workers, and workplaces.

The “new math” of conversation

I’m no math whiz, but I do understand that one plus one equals two. However, a good conversation may yield a different, more powerful equation, whereby one plus one may equal three…or five…or ten, at least when it comes to potential new understandings. And when even more people get into a good mix of conversation, then all bets are off.

My recent phone conversations with Maureen have centered on a book project (see below), but because we’re both immersed in the world of workplace bullying and mobbing, we sometimes discuss our work generally. I can attest that sharing our respective expertise has led to knowledge constructing moments for both us, with insights emerging from the back and forth of attentive conversation.

This is among the reasons why I have written in praise of conferences and workshops that allow for genuine exchanges during formal sessions, break times, and enrichment events. As frequent conference goers know well, there’s a huge difference between gatherings that are interactive, friendly, and engaging, and those that are stuffy, hierarchical, and pretentious. With the former, you wish it could go on for a few more days. With the latter, you can’t wait for it to be over. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this stuff, here are several blog posts of possible interest:

Conferences as community builders (2015)

Workshopping human dignity (2014)

Inspiration in Amsterdam (2013)

Why conferences? (2013)

Stay tuned: A cool book project is in the making

I’ve been on the phone with Maureen a lot in recent months because she invited me to join her as co-editor of an exciting book project on workplace bullying and mobbing. The two-volume book set will feature a comprehensive, multidisciplinary collection of chapters by leading and emerging U.S. experts on bullying and mobbing at work, with a focus on American employment relations. We have a very supportive publisher and a great team of chapter contributors, and we’re looking at a 2017 publication date. I’ll be sharing more news about the project in the coming months.

New video: FACE to FACE With Workplace Bullying

Massachusetts documentary producer Jay Fedigan has posted this superbly done, six minute video, “FACE to FACE With Workplace Bullying,” featuring interviews with individuals who bravely share their stories of being bullying targets.

The video builds off of Massachusetts: Face Workplace Bullying, an artistic photo display designed to raise public awareness about workplace bullying and to voice support for the Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1771, currently before the MA legislature). The display features photographs of 14 individuals who have been targets of workplace bullying, along with their names and statements about the circumstances surrounding their experiences. It made its official debut on the 4th floor of the Massachusetts State House in April and is now on display at Worcester’s Union Station.

Jay interviewed several of these courageous change agents for his video, and the result is a moving testament to the need for change. It’s six minutes of your time well spent.

To find your passion, give it time to find you

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Psychologist Angela Duckworth (Univ. of Pennsylvania), in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, recognizes that many new graduates have not have discovered the passions that commencement speakers so fervently urge them to follow:

If you’re relying on a commencement speaker to set your compass, you may still be confused at day’s end. In my experience, it’s common to hear “Follow your passion” from the podium. This is great counsel if, in fact, you know what that passion is. But what if you don’t?

. . . As a psychologist who studies world-class achievers, I can say the reality of following your passion is not very romantic. It takes time to develop a direction that feels so in-the-bones right that you never want to veer from it.

Duckworth suggests that instead of following a passion, many would be benefit by fostering a passion. In her article, she elaborates upon three pieces of advice for doing so:

  • “Move toward what interests you.”
  • “Seek purpose.”
  • “Finish strong.”

I can relate

Duckworth’s advice rings very true to me.

I have friends from law school who have been in same field of law — and in a few cases have been with the same employer — since our graduation. During those years, they have progressed from novices to masters, fueled by ongoing, heartfelt commitments to what they are doing.

Those who have known me for some time would likely attest that I have always had stuff that I was passionate about, especially in the general realm of law, politics, and public policy. I have long harbored the instincts of a reformer and a maverick, though often driven more by a generalized resistance to authority than a commitment to finely honed principles.

However, I didn’t become interested in workers’ rights until I became a union shop steward for the NYC Legal Aid lawyers’ union. I didn’t discover the burgeoning topic of workplace bullying until the late 90s. My deep interest in psychology as a frame for looking at the law didn’t start to sharpen until roughly eight years ago.

Today I find myself centered on multidisciplinary approaches to supporting dignity in the workplace and on efforts to make law and public policy more attentive to psychologically healthy outcomes. This work is likely to be lifelong, yet it was not on my radar screen when I graduated from college or law school many moons ago.

In other words, when I tell my own students that their passions may not come into focus until many years after graduation, I speak from experience. You just can’t hurry this stuff, and I’m glad folks like Prof. Duckworth are sharing that message.

 

Like Dracula, workplace narcissists have reason to fear the sunlight

Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931)

Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931)

Retired English professor Linda Labin brings Dracula and narcissism together in a thought-provoking blog post, “Dracula is The Iconic Toxic Narcissist“:

When I speak or write about toxic narcissism, which is, I believe, the source of all evil in the world, I often mention that toxic narcissists are like ‘psychic vampires,’ in that they suck the souls out of good, compassionate people in the same fashion as mythical (I hope) vampires suck the life blood out of trusting victims. That construct leads me to examine here the idea that Dracula, the epitome of vampirism, is also a perfect icon of toxic narcissism.

How apt a connection for this blog! At work, it’s not unusual to find Dracula a narcissist in a position of power, influence, and responsibility. After all, some of the very qualities that give more decent folks the shivers have helped the narcissist climb up the greasy pole.

Like Dracula, workplace narcissists work best in the dark and in the shadows. Operating in stealth mode, they strive to ensure that their targets are left to defend themselves alone. They can quietly pick off these victims that way, one-by-one.

Also like Dracula, pouring sunlight onto a workplace narcissist is one of the best ways to diminish him. This process of illumination is very rarely a grand public gesture. Rather, it’s typically done through the grapevine, via an expanding circle of private conversations — mostly in-person, sometimes via e-mail or social media — where people share their stories and those of others. The clinical term may not enter the stream of dialogue immediately — livelier, often profane descriptors tend to be used — but at some point someone will mention that they “read an article about narcissists and so-and-so fits the description to a T.” Hey, you don’t always need training in clinical psychology to connect those dots.

So here’s the thing with workplace narcissists: Prolonged exposure to them is revealing. They may charm you at first, but eventually the manipulations, lies, bullying, gaslighting, and other lovely behaviors show themselves.

What counts is the potential impact of being outed. When the twisted practices of a workplace narcissist become well known throughout an organization, said narcissist may lose a chunk of his perverse power, because people are on to him and can sometimes neutralize him. It doesn’t mean that his power is completely dissipated, nor does it guarantee that all are now protected from his actions. But potentially, at least, it’s the beginning of the end for him, or at least a partial de-fanging. Bite on that, Drac.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2016

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June 15 has been designated as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization, and I’m glad to be able to help bring it to our attention. Here’s how the sponsors describe it:

Each year, an estimated 5 million older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. In addition, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation, funds that could have been used to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, and medical care. Unfortunately, no one is immune to abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It occurs in every demographic, and can happen to anyone—a family member, a neighbor, even you. Yet it is estimated that only about one in five of those crimes are ever discovered.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. The purpose of WEAAD is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect. In addition, WEAAD is in support of the United Nations International Plan of Action acknowledging the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue. WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

The United Nations describes elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.” Examples include “physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse.” Especially with demographic projections showing a steady growth in the older population, elder abuse is likely to take on greater significance in the coming years.

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In 2013, I participated in a conference on bullying across the lifespan at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. The conference brought together academics, practitioners, and advocates from across the country who have been addressing the legal and policy aspects of bullying in different social and institutional settings. It took a chronological approach, starting with bullying among school kids, moving on to higher education settings, then to the workplace, and finally to seniors. The final panel examined best practices across that span. The gathering served as an excellent connect-the-dots reminder that interpersonal abuse and bullying can and do occur at every age stage.

 

 

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