Emily Bazelon of Slate magazine, whose article on the school bullying suicide of Phoebe Prince I discussed earlier on this blog (link here), has weighed in with an investigative commentary (link here) on the suicide of Virginia Quarterly Review editor Kevin Morrissey, a tragedy that has attracted national attention due to allegations of workplace bullying at the hands of his boss.
Bazelon adopts the same skeptical mindset towards bullying that she demonstrated in the Phoebe Prince piece. I’m not going to engage in a line-by-line critique of her article, but time and again I saw how she used clever selection and juxtaposition of facts and quotes to cast doubt not only on the possibility that bullying contributed to Morrissey’s demise, but also on the general need to respond to workplace bullying effectively. Indeed, I even saw how she deftly used quotes from my own lengthy telephone interview with her to undercut the importance of enacting legal protections against severe workplace bullying.
The challenge for an emerging social movement
Bazelon reveals, once again, a sharp intellect and a lawyer’s ability to present facts persuasively. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us in view of her background: Selective private school, Yale College, Yale Law School, granddaughter of legendary federal judge David Bazelon, and distant cousin of feminist Betty Friedan. But her writings also suggest that her analytical skills outpace her demonstrated understanding of, and empathy for, people who have been on the receiving end of psychological abuse that falls under the category of severe bullying.
Herein lies a challenge to those of us who recognize the destructiveness of workplace bullying: How do we persuade smart people who, for whatever reasons, don’t yet understand the dynamics of this form of abuse and what it can do to others?
The raw material, unfortunately, is growing in abundance. We have an expanding body of published and documentary accounts of workplace bullying that tell the stories of those who have been bullied (sadly, sometimes to death). We have an even larger collection of studies that identify the frequency of, and harm caused by, bullying at work, with more on the way.
Somehow, someway, we need to make our case more persuasively.
Addendum: The online comments to Bazelon’s article take time to work through, but they capture the span of attitudes toward, and understanding of, workplace bullying. Some of the critiques of Bazelon’s commentary (I really can’t call it reporting) are much more articulate than my efforts above. The exchanges are sharp at times but mostly civil, and overall they present a very interesting back-and-forth dialogue.