“Bullying on another level”: Native American actors walk off set of Adam Sandler production

Screenshot from IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork.com

Screenshot of script portion, from IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork.com

Last week, a group of Native American actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler production for Netflix, “The Ridiculous Six,” on grounds that the attempted parody of the Old West is demeaning and insulting to Native Americans. They were joined by the project’s cultural advisor.

Alyssa Rosenberg, pop culture writer for the Washington Post, wrote a piece praising the bravery of the actors, especially given the paucity of parts for Native Americans in the movies. I agree. Putting myself in the actors’ positions, I would find it humiliating to utter those lines. (If someone wrote something like that for Asian Americans, I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.)

Netflix claims that the diverse characters are “in on” the jokes, which would make a difference if true. However, as the script segment posted by the Indian Country Today Media Network illustrates, Netflix has it very wrong. In making fun of Native Americans, it wreaks of unfunny sexual and toilet humor, using supposedly humorous terms such as “chi wat” and “chungo,” that — at least according to my Google search — aren’t part of any Indian language. (For more of the same, see these script portions shared by Jordan Sargent on Gawker.com.)

In a video clip posted with Rosenberg’s piece, actor Loren Anthony called the experience “bullying on another level.” Maybe his use of the term is different than how I typically employ it on this blog, but his point is well taken. One can easily understand why the actors stood up for their dignity and left the production.

Especially when it comes to racial and ethnic humor, there is an extraordinarily fine line between genuine parody and the furthering of demeaning stereotypes. Only the most gifted comedy writers can pull it off.

Mel Brooks, as exemplified by “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles,” is among that small, gifted group. Adam Sandler is not. He should go back to making the vacuous movies that are his calling card, but hopefully with less offensive content.

As for Netflix, this is a disappointment. They’ve led the way on streaming productions, but this one is a tasteless clunker in the making.

Our heroes: Emulating their best qualities vs. basking in their reflected glow

When it comes to our heroes, do we try to emulate their best qualities, or do we simply bask in their reflected glow?

I submit that the way in which we relate to our heroes says a lot about us as individuals. In a 2013 article, I mentioned a few of my heroes and added:

From these heroes and others, I continually draw lessons and inspiration, and I am a better person today as a result. Isn’t the power of example one of the most special long-term gifts provided by any real hero?

Of course, if our heroes are historic, iconic figures, then they may seem other worldly and beyond our limited capacities to emulate. However, if we dig deeper, we often find that they have confronted very human struggles during their lives. To illustrate, last week I wrote in my personal blog about my long-time fascination with Abraham Lincoln. I observed that what attracts me to his story is not the Lincoln of myth, but rather the Lincoln who struggled with depression and bore a heavy emotional burden as President during America’s Civil War.

Lessons and inspirations

Whether a hero is a family member, friend, work colleague, or public figure, knowing their story will help us to draw lessons and inspirations that we can apply to our own lives. These applications may not earn us wide recognition or renown, but in small and sometimes large ways, they can help us make a positive difference to others.

For example, I recently had an exchange with a long-time friend who told me that his devotion to Lincoln goes back decades. Although his life path and Lincoln’s are obviously very different, I see in him qualities of good judgment, self-discipline, humor, and understated generosity that I associate with Lincoln.

In other words, it’s about manifesting “heroic” qualities in our everyday lives and deeds.

The disconnect

By contrast, I’ve also encountered people whose actions and behaviors have been at stark odds with those of their professed heroes. In my previous post, I mentioned Winston Churchill. I am reminded of someone I knew who worshipped Churchill and claimed to have read many books by and about Sir Winston. Nevertheless, in his position as a manager, he raised bureaucratic, inside-the-box thinking to an art form and would follow virtually any directive from above, no matter how wrongheaded or hurtful to others, with scant protest or question.

Sadly, I think this fellow equated admiring Winston Churchill with possessing some of Churchill’s best qualities. Um, let’s just say that the disconnection was quite profound.

The better approach

Okay, so obviously we don’t want to become a clone of my faux-Churchill acquaintance. However, if we unforgivingly hold ourselves to the standards of our heroes, then at times we may fall short and possibly engage in a lot of self-blame.

The better approach, I think, is to learn from their examples, to hold ourselves accountable to the standards we embrace, and to keep moving forward. For most of us, it’s the best we can do, and that’s not a bad thing. 

When dealing with abusive work environments, the terrible “ifs” may accumulate

When Winston Churchill was the First Sea Lord of the British Navy during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, he observed that “the terrible ‘ifs’ accumulate.” While fully admitting that I’m borrowing his quote out of context, I find the words ever so relevant to many of those who are dealing with abusive work environments, especially in the form of workplace bullying.

In nasty work environments, one’s mind may start to race with possibilities, and few of them are good. Hence,”the terrible ‘ifs’,” which also dovetail hard with the understandable tendency of many people in bad work settings to ruminate over their situations. As I wrote back in February:

Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:

Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.

The constant rumination may include imagining a parade of horrible possibilities…what if thiswhat if that. It may fuel a form of “catastrophizing,” whereby “we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong,” as Dr. John Grohol explains for PsychCentral.com.

In some cases, the perpetrators of the abusive conduct may intend this effect. Overall, it’s about keeping people guessing, fearful, and always looking over their shoulders.

If you find yourself in such a workplace, try to keep your wits about you, even in the face of stress and anxiety. As I’ve written many times about bad work situations, this is much easier said than done. Nevertheless, while bad things can and do happen, rarely do all of the terrible ifs occur in unison. In some cases, it’s possible to mitigate the risks by assessing the options and taking smart actions.

“Should I support that Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign?”

Screen shot of Indiegogo home page

Screen shot of Indiegogo home page

The growth of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo has created a sort of privatized lottery system, whereby if you can design the right appeal for a product, cause, or someone in need and it happens to gain momentum, then you may be buoyed by monies from complete strangers over the course of a few weeks.

To be sure, most crowdfunding campaigns do not go viral and do not raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite occasional news stories suggesting that if you merely ask for it, then it will come. Many campaigns fail dismally. (Hence, the lotto-like quality to the whole deal.) However, crowdfunding has evolved into a viable option for entrepreneurs, social causes, and personal appeals.

If you Google around a bit, you’ll find plenty of advice on how to design a crowdfunding campaign. But what if you’re like most us, on the receiving end of those requests? Over the last year, I’ve looked at several dozen crowdfunding campaign requests, either through sites such as the ones mentioned above, or via more informal means such as Facebook.

At times, I will happily support a crowdfunding campaign for a good cause, interesting new product, or an individual facing tough times. On other occasions I might decide not to contribute.

For what it’s worth — and I’m not claiming to be the first or last word on this — here’s what I look for when considering to support a crowdfunding appeal:

1. Above all, is the request a legitimate one? There are so many factors that go into this assessment, including the individuals involved, the nature of the funding request, and the information provided in the crowdfunding appeal.  This question pervades many other considerations discussed below.

2. How can my money make a difference? Whether it’s supporting a niche business idea, helping to launch new social venture, or lending a hand to someone in need, I want my contribution to have a positive impact. While this applies specially to larger amounts of money, it’s relevant even if we’re talking about modest donations.

3. Is the funding campaign “fixed” or “flexible”? A fixed campaign specifies that if the fundraiser doesn’t raise a minimum amount, then no one will be charged; in essence, it’s an all-or-nothing approach. A flexible campaign takes your money even if the minimum stated dollar goal isn’t reached.

I often decline to fund high dollar amount campaigns using flexible funding, unless it’s an organization or individual I know, the appeal (including the amount) is realistic and well articulated, and I happen to strongly support it. At times, if a flexible campaign seems promising but perhaps overly ambitious, I’ll wait to see if it’s attracting a lot of support. If not, there’s a good chance that others have the same concerns. It’s a way of sending a message to the campaign sponsor that there’s something about the appeal that is causing people to hesitate.

Let’s suppose, for example, that someone is asking for $25,000 for a project on a flexible funding basis. If, say, my $75 contribution is part of only $1,000 raised in total, then I feel like a bit of a chump, having sent a nice chunk of change to a project that isn’t even close to having sufficient funds to go ahead.

4. Is there a sufficiently detailed budget? Especially for entrepreneurial and social entrepreneurial projects, I want to know how the money will be used. I’ve read appeals for amounts around $2,500 that are specific and detailed. I’ve read others for amounts around $25,000 that tell me very little. Guess who gets my contribution?

5. If it’s a personal appeal for, or behalf of, an individual in need, then how does it hit me? This is a difficult question, loaded with personal biases relating to who is “deserving” of help, and subject to the narrative skills of the person(s) writing the funding appeal.

Here are the personal appeals that cause me to back away fast: They tend to ask for larger sums of money, often six figures or more. Some sound excessive or suggestive of a failure to explore options. A few smack of The Secret on hallucinogens; it’s as if someone sat down and thought, I sure could use $100,000, so let’s go for it and maybe my request goes viral.

However, let’s also remember that, especially in this age of massive wealth inequality, economic uncertainty, and a frazzled social safety net, a lot of people are struggling to pay their bills and to put food on their tables. We should keep our hearts open to personal appeals, while considering them carefully.

6. What do the perks, if any, say about the desirability and integrity of the funding request? On occasion I’ve funded something because the perk(s) offered seemed pretty cool. Maybe a perk includes the very product I’d like to support. Or perhaps it gives me a good feeling of connection with the people organizing the campaign.

On other occasions I’ve declined to fund something because the perk(s) seemed cheesy or, well, insincere. By the latter, I mean that the perks were somewhat contrived and, in some cases, appeared to be deliberately difficult to fulfill. If, say, a $500 donation to a national campaign gets you a face-to-face half hour over coffee with the project organizer, but you have to fly halfway across the country on your dime for that latte, then this should tell you something about how the campaign sponsors regard potential contributors — regardless of whether you can afford that level of support.

7. Is the funding request on behalf of an abused animal, or a beloved pet who needs expensive surgery? Put a sad looking little doggie or kitty cat on the funding page with a cry for help, and my critical evaluative skills often go out the window. Unless the critter is Cujo, I’m fumbling through my wallet for my credit card. Yup, I’m a sucker.

The bullying consumer: Is there a little bit of Britt McHenry in most of us?

ESPN sideline reporter Britt McHenry is paying a price for contemptuously berating an attendant at a towing company, an act that was caught on the company’s security camera and has now gone viral:

If you haven’t clicked to the one-minute video, here are some of the “highlights” of McHenry’s verbal beatdown of the attendant, as reported by Clinton Yates for the Washington Post:

  • “That’s why I have a degree and you don’t.”
  • “That’s all you care about is just taking people’s money. With no education, no skill-set. Just wanted to clarify that.”
  • “Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing?”
  • “Maybe if I was missing some teeth, they would hire me here, huh?”
  • “Lose some weight, baby girl.”

McHenry has apologized for her actions, and ESPN has suspended her for a week. It’s hard to say whether the story will last beyond a news cycle or two, but for today it’s making the rounds.

A lesson for all of us?

Yup, Britt McHenry appears to be the classic Mean Girl: Beautiful until she starts talking off-camera, the quintessential hot horror show.

But before we make her out to be the blonde Charles Manson, let’s dig a little deeper into the story. As the Post‘s Clinton Yates further reports, the towing company in question, Advanced Towing, has a less than wonderful reputation for numerous incidents of allegedly inappropriate towing. And generally speaking, it’s unlikely that any of us would be in the best of moods after chasing down a towed car and having to pay to get it back.

Nevertheless, there’s a big difference between being an unhappy or even angry consumer and verbally abusing a receptionist, attendant, or customer service rep for policies and practices that likely trace up to senior management. A few of McHenry’s comments might be excused as venting over a frustrating experience, but the remarks about the attendant’s education, appearance, and employment were plain mean and nasty.

In the couple of news stories I’ve read about this incident that also have included information about the towing company’s reputation, I’ve found the reader comments remarkably evenhanded. Many seem to understand that even when dealing with a not-so-great company or organization, there’s a difference between showing displeasure over the service and savagely personalizing the criticism toward the lower-level employee who is just following instructions.

For me, it’s an important reminder for the next time I have to call my cable TV company: Don’t be a jerk. While I’ve never treated any employee the way Britt McHenry treated that attendant, I’ve lost my temper a couple of times over the years trying to deal with the cable company, to the point where I’ve apologized to the customer service rep for being so agitated.

Now when I pick up the phone to call the company, I coach myself ahead of time to not take out any frustrations on the person at the other end. I tell myself, they’re not the ones who created such lousy customer service. Even the folks who are reading off of a script are doing so because they were trained that way.

Plus, if you’ve ever worked in the retail service industry, then you may know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an angry customer’s tirade. Especially if that behavior crosses the line, it’s no fun, and it can feel very diminishing.

Workplace bullies can wear many hats, including that of consumer. Let’s try not to be one of those.

David Brooks and his “moral bucket list”


In a piece for Sunday’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks writes about “The Moral Bucket List,” a sort of personal reckoning he has experienced about the importance of leading a meaningful, positively impactful life:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. . . . When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

He goes on to talk about two main sets of virtues:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.

A life built primarily around the résumé virtues, suggests Brooks, will prove to be a more empty one.

Brooks’s moral bucket list is comprised of the “experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life.” They include a shift toward humility, confronting self-defeat and our own weaknesses, accepting “redemptive assistance from outside,” experiencing and giving “energizing love” with others, finding our callings, and embracing a sense of conscience.

In his opinion piece, he introduces exemplars of these virtues, such as General and President Dwight Eisenhower overcoming a severe temper, Catholic social activist Dorothy Day surmounting an early life of indulgence and reckless behavior, and U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins deciding to devote her life to workers’ rights.

It’s an excellent article, very appropriate and wise for the age in which we live.

On the political scale, Brooks is regarded as a moderate to conservative commentator. Yet, to his great credit, he cites the lives and examples of men and women spanning a broad political and social spectrum, both in the article and in his new book that expounds upon these ideas and stories, The Road to Character (2015). Brooks’s article caused me to run out and buy the book, and my preliminary page flips tell me that it will be a worthwhile read.

Positive echoes

Brooks’s moral bucket list concept intersects nicely with the messages of other authors I’ve written about, who urge upon us the importance of finding our life purposes, living compassionate lives, and making a positive difference with the time we are here. I think these works are most resonant to those in the second half of life (or close to it), but anyone may benefit from them. For more:

Defining, refining, creating, and redefining your “body of work” (2015)

Taking stock at midlife: Time for reading assignments (2014)

Holiday reads: Fueling heart, mind, and soul (2014)

“The Shift: Ambition to Meaning” (2014)

Transitions and inner callings (2014)

“Follow your bliss”? Parsing Joseph Campbell’s famous advice (2012)

What’s your legacy work? (And how can you de-clutter way to it?) (2011)

Working Notes: Upcoming speaking appearances and a nice kudo

Hello dear readers, I wanted to quickly share a few items about upcoming speaking appearances, as well as a surprise kudo.

The Mara Dolan Show, Monday at 10:30 a.m.

Today (Monday) at around 10:30 a.m. eastern I’ll be making my second appearance this year on the Mara Dolan Show, 980 WCAP radio in Massachusetts. I’ll be giving an update on the status of the Healthy Workplace Bill in the Bay State and talking about therapeutic jurisprudence, the school of legal thought that examines the psychological impacts of law, public policy, and legal systems.

I was a guest on Mara’s show in January, talking about workplace bullying, and I enjoyed our conversation very much. She’s a highly respected, very knowledgeable political commentator with a background in law and social work.

[4/15/15 Editor’s Note: You may listen to the segment, about 12 minutes, here.]

Work, Stress, and Health Conference, Atlanta, May 2015

This is a repeat of an earlier note that I’ll be presenting at one of my favorite events, the biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. This year’s conference will be held on May 6-9 in Atlanta.

I’ll chairing and presenting on two symposium panels, one on the impact of emerging workplace bullying legislation on employee relations stakeholders (with Gary Namie, Ellen Pinkos Cobb, and Maureen Duffy), and another on coaching as an intervention strategy for workplace bullying (with John-Robert Curtin, Ivonne Moreno-Velazquez, and Jessi Eden Brown).

In addition, I just accepted an invitation to moderate a panel on organizational justice featuring Karolus O. Kraan, Bram P. I. Fleuren, and Dr. Peter L. Schnall.

International Congress of Law and Mental Health, Vienna, Austria, July 2015

I’ll be taking a long plane flight to Vienna, Austria, for the 2015 International Congress of Law and Mental Health, a biennial, global gathering of academicians, practitioners, judges, and students hosted by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health on July 12-17. I’ll be on a panel that examines how therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) perspectives can be integrated into law teaching and legal education. My paper will examine how TJ can be included in continuing legal education programs for practicing attorneys.

Top 30 list

Last week, I was doing some online research on workplace bullying when I found this feature by Dr. Tanja Babic, “The 30 Most Influential Industrial and Organizational Psychologists Alive Today,” on Human Resources MBA, a website and blog for individuals interested in training and degree programs in HR work. I was delighted to see Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute listed at No. 5. Gary’s contributions to our understanding of workplace bullying have been singular and definitive.

I scrolled down the rest of the list and was stunned to find myself at No. 30. Especially given that my formal training is in law and public policy, I am honored to be included on a list of influential people in I/O psychology.

Here’s the January 2015 news release announcing the article and listing.


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