Last Thursday I co-hosted a meeting to start planning advocacy and public education activities on behalf of the Healthy Workplace Bill for the 2011-12 session of the Massachusetts legislature. This will be the second session in which we have introduced the HWB. Working with co-coordinators Greg Sorozan and Deb Falzoi plus a growing number of fellow supporters, we are optimistic that we will build upon the progress generated during the previous session.
The making of advocates
At this meeting, as we sometimes have done at others, we quickly went around the table and introduced ourselves. Inevitably, we learned that many people in the room had experienced workplace bullying or witnessed friends enduring it. Not surprisingly, some tears were shed during these introductions.
Especially for targets of this abuse, the decision to become an advocate for law reform often requires courage and fortitude. Meaningful social change is often effected by those who have experienced injustice and mistreatment. In this sense, the decision to go from “victim” to advocate can be an empowering one, a personal statement that one will harness a terrible experience to help others.
Not for everyone
When bullying targets come forward to be counted among the voices for change, they lend incredible power to this movement. But the role of advocate is not for everyone. For some, their experiences are too raw, perhaps ongoing. As I told people in the room last Thursday, no one should apologize for realizing that it is too difficult to be involved in a broader cause; healing must come first. There is no shame in acknowledging this is the case.
An ongoing personal lesson, with thanks
I ask my readers’ indulgence in telling a personal story: Many years ago I arrived in Manhattan as a first-year law student at NYU Law School, full of intentions of becoming a public interest lawyer and political activist. Frankly I wore my change-the-world ‘tude on my sleeve — to the likely annoyance of some of my law school friends who didn’t share my worldview.
I suppose on paper, it appears that I stuck to those convictions. After graduating from law school, I worked as a Legal Aid lawyer in New York City, followed by several years as an Assistant Attorney General for New York State. I then entered teaching and continued to be heavily involved in pro bono and public interest activities.
But until I learned about workplace bullying and what it could do to people, I didn’t comprehend the vital link between shared experience, abuse, and the need for change, at least not in the way that one feels and understands something in the gut. When heart and mind connect on something like this, the light bulbs start going off at a furious pace.
So I want to thank those of you who are becoming voices for change because of your experiences with workplace bullying. Whether working in a more public or private manner, you are breathing necessary humanity into this movement and ushering us toward a better day at work for all.