Thanksgiving, giving thanks, and giving back

 

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Today I’m hopping on a train to New York City (hence the Amtrak Acela poster from my office!), the travel piece of what has become an annual Thanksgiving get together with my cousins and friends. What began over a decade ago as an impromptu turkey day gathering is now a full-fledged tradition, and I look forward to it every year.

In classic New York style, we don’t start until the late afternoon. We’re all pretty hungry by the time the feast is served — and when I say feast, I mean it! The evening finishes up with many choices of desserts amidst singing and playing music.

Over the years, not much has changed about this gathering, the most noticeable difference being the kids now joining the grown ups at the main table. We repeat ourselves a lot from year to year, including well-deserved compliments to the chef and updates on how we’re all doing. That suits me fine. It is a source of continuity and connection, and a blessed reminder of how friends become family, and vice versa.

But for various reasons, I find myself a little down this year. I tend not to be the biggest holiday enthusiast to begin with, but I am particularly mindful right now of how many people are in need and how many are struggling with life’s challenges.

I started this blog five years ago, just as the Great Recession was going into full gear. Today, here in one of the world’s richest nations, we have millions who can’t find decent jobs, even more who are dealing with hunger on a daily basis, and a wealth gap that grows ever wider.

Beyond our shores and borders, the situation worsens, often by leaps and bounds. Recently I met a man around my age who is from Guinea in West Africa. He has been working in the U.S. for over 20 years. He lives on very little so he can send most of his earnings back to his family and village neighbors, who are in dire need of the most basic staples and provisions.

For those of us who are in a position to be thankful for life’s bounty, the best way to show our gratitude is to give back. Whether by way of money, service, advocacy, or some combination, we have opportunities to make a difference. As the saying goes, and inspired by multiple faith traditions, from those to whom much is given, much is expected, yes?

Some organizations excel, others just drift and bumble along

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The New England Patriots did it again. On Sunday Night Football, playing a talented Denver Broncos team (9-1 going into the game) led by future Hall of Fame quarterback and arch rival Peyton Manning, they overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit to win in overtime, 34-31.

In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t happen often. According to an ESPN reporter, in the modern era of the NFL, successful comebacks by teams trailing by 24 or more points at halftime had occurred only five of 490 times.

Last night’s unlikely win was led by the Patriots’ own Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, who threw three second-half touchdown passes. It also featured some first-rate coaching by the head coach Bill Belichick.

Before I continue: First, my Boston residence notwithstanding, my first gridiron loyalties still go to the Chicago Bears, so I’m not a cheerleader for the Pats. Second, I won’t glamorize the culture of the NFL, especially after the Miami Dolphins workplace bullying situation this month. The NFL is not a warm & fuzzy place to be. Finally, I’m not painting the Patriots as paragons of virtue. In a zero-sum world, they play to win.

Nevertheless, I often draw analogies, metaphors, and lessons from sports. For me, yesterday’s Patriots win was not just about a remarkable comeback victory. Rather, it highlighted the difference between organizations primed to excel vs. those that simply drift and bumble along.

It starts with leadership. The Patriots have smart, savvy, superb leaders in three critical areas: (1) Their owner, Robert Kraft; (2) their head coach, Bill Belichick; and (3) their quarterback and team leader, Tom Brady. Together they have appeared in five Super Bowls and won three of them. Every season they are in the playoff hunt.

By contrast, the world of pro sports is littered with franchises that always seem to fall short — or perhaps miss the boat entirely. My beloved Chicago Cubs, for instance. Or the utterly hapless (until recently, at least) Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA. In the NFL, the Cleveland Browns seem to be filling the bill. Look at the leadership of these teams over the years, and you’ll see what I mean.

These dynamics are found in virtually every profession or vocation where organizations exist. Success formulas may vary, but the good ones have found approaches that work for them, starting with quality leaders. The others fumble and flounder, sometimes clueless over why they’re not better.

Intellectual activism and social change

For some time I’ve been studying a topic that I’ve labeled “intellectual activism,” the practice of using scholarly research and writing to inform, shape, and influence social change initiatives. This fall, I’ve been the fortunate recipient of a Dean’s Faculty Fellowship at Suffolk University Law School to support this course of study, which will culminate in a variety of publications during the coming years.

In addition to collecting and reviewing new materials on intellectual activism, I’ve been looking at my past writings on relevant subjects. For those of you interested in thinking about how we can harness our research to promote positive change, perhaps this material — some of which I’ve mentioned previously — will be of interest:

“If It Matters, Write About It: Using Legal Scholarship to Promote Social Change” (2013)

This piece has just been published in the inaugural issue of Bearing Witness: A Journal on Law and Social Responsibility, a new student-edited periodical at Suffolk to which I serve as faculty advisor. Here’s a brief abstract:

This essay centers on the concept of “intellectual activism,” discussing how legal scholarship can be used as the foundation for social change work. It recounts and reflects upon the author’s ongoing work in advancing issues such as workplace bullying and the rights of student interns. It concludes with advice on how to be effective in an intellectual activist mode.

Although the full issue won’t be online until later, you may download a pdf of my article here.

“Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship” (2010)

This law review article, published in the University of Memphis Law Review, explores how legal scholarship can be used to make a deeper contribution to academic and public dialogue and to social action. Here’s the abstract:

The culture of legal scholarship has become preoccupied with article placement, citations, and download numbers, thus obscuring a deeper appreciation for the contributions of scholarly work. This article proposes that therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”), a theoretical framework that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law and legal practice, provides us with tools for understanding and changing that culture.

More prescriptively, the article applies a TJ lens to: (1) identify a set of good practices for legal scholarship; (2) examine the TJ movement as an example of healthy scholarly practice; (3) consider the role of law professors as intellectual activists; and, (4) propose that law schools nurture a scholar-practitioner orientation in their students to help them become more engaged members of the legal profession.

You may download a pdf here.

“The Adult Educator as Public Intellectual” (2009)

This book chapter was published in Andre P. Grace & Tonette S. Rocco, et al., Challenging the Professionalization of Adult Education: John Ohliger and Contradictions in Modern Practice (2009). John Ohliger was an iconoclastic adult educator, writer, and political activist, in addition to being my dear friend. In my piece, I discuss the typical role of the public intellectual and contrast it to ways in which John modeled a different approach that included a variety of non-traditional writings, a devotion to public community radio, and extensive, personal interactions with people who traversed his many paths.

You may download a pdf of my chapter here (free reg req’d).

Short paper

Here’s a short paper I presented at CUNY Law School in New York:

Law Professors as Intellectual Activists (2013) (free reg req’d)

2013 blog posts

I’ve been writing a lot about intellectual activism and related topics this year:

Insiders, outsiders, and change agents

Inspiration in Amsterdam

The social responsibilities of intellectuals at a time of extraordinary human need

Setting agendas for positive social change

10 ways to make a difference: Advice for change agents

Intellectual activism

Mary Pipher on Writing to Change the World

What now, not what if

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Currently stored on my DVR are a PBS program and a National Geographic docudrama about President Kennedy, both produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Although I’m a devotee of history, I have a feeling that I won’t be watching them.

I was way too young to understand the tragedy of the assassination when it occurred. Today, however, I regard those events with a deep sense of loss and a light snuffed out.  Kennedy’s three years in office were marked by large successes and failures, but he appeared to be hitting his stride by the time he met his demise in Dallas. The “what ifs” are both tantalizing and sad to contemplate. It is oh-so-tempting to imagine what might have been had he lived.

Nevertheless, watching television programs devoted to Kennedy and his death seems like wallowing in a past that cannot be changed. That lesson was reinforced to me in Stephen King’s 2011 time travel epic, 11/22/63, which takes us back to the years leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy. The main protagonist — a modern-day school teacher — learns that when we go back in time, our attempts to change the past may have unintended consequences.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be drawing such fundamental lessons from a bestselling novel, but I’ll take the chance. Even hardcore nostalgia addicts like me must recognize that what’s done is done. And to a generation raised with options, the what-ifs — the speculations over the roads not traveled — can consume us if we let them.

Rather, what counts is how we live today, including the measures we undertake to better our lives and those of others. This point applies in the realms of public affairs, our personal lives, everything. We take the world as it is and do our best to move forward. It’s the best choice we have.

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This article is cross-posted with my personal blog, Musings of a Gen Joneser.

Miami Dolphins and Richie Incognito: Sports Illustrated declares win for anti-bullying movement

Sports Illustrated has declared victory for the anti-bullying movement in the Miami Dolphins workplace bullying story.

Earlier this month, the Dolphins suspended player Richie Incognito in the wake of alleged severe, threatening bullying behaviors toward teammate Jonathan Martin. Within days, the story went national.

A front-of-the-book piece in the Nov. 18 issue of SI by editor L. Jon Wertheim (not yet available online) notes that the story is “pitting the NFL’s macho old guard against the antibullying movement” and says that we “might be surprised at who’s winning handily.” Wertheim observes:

But this is a quintessentially American creation, a stew of sports and violence and manhood and media and tribalism and ostracism — with a race/class garnish. And it also involves perhaps one of the country’s most powerful movements in recent years. This has already been a massive victory for the antibullying forces.

He closes his piece this way:

As we watch, we’ve already arrived at a cultural moment that has taught us this: When even the toughest, meanest jocks mess with antibullying movement, they’re not winning the fight.

Folks, I’ve been subscribing to SI for over 40 years, going back to my earliest days as a sports fan. Take my word for it, this article is a modest, yet meaningful milestone in itself. Okay, so in classic sports journalism fashion, they had to declare a winner and a loser. But it shows how the anti-bullying movement — and in this specific context, the workplace anti-bullying movement — is gaining steam and becoming mainstreamed.

Roundup of other commentary

While we’re at it, let me offer this roundup of commentary on the Miami Dolphins story from folks within my network of friends and associates:

Gary Namie in the national media

Dr. Gary Namie has been commenting extensively in the national media and on the Workplace Bullying Institute blog about the Dolphins situation. Go here for a National Public Radio interview, “How Best to Manage Workplace Bullying,” with Linda Wertheimer. Also, here’s what he wrote about media commentary on the story:

It’s getting harder to find apologists among the sports cognoscenti at ESPN to defend the Miami Dolphins designated bully Richie Incognito. The Miami Dolphins post-game panel after Monday Night Football on Nov. 11 stated unanimously that the locker room culture in every team would have to change just as surely as approaches to concussions have changed. They spoke of “neanderthals” in the locker room growing extinct. That the league has to evolve because other workplaces don’t behave abusively. (Oops. Yes they do. That’s the message about workplace bullying.)

Ellen Pinkos Cobb on workplace anti-bullying laws elsewhere

Attorney Ellen Pinkos Cobb uses the Dolphins story to note that the U.S. has yet to enact legal protections against workplace bullying, in contrast to other nations. Here’s a snippet from her piece for Workplace Violence News:

The US would do well to look around the world. Numerous countries have legislation to protect workers from bullying. Canada, Australia, and nine European countries have enacted anti-bullying laws, including Sweden, France, and Denmark, and Serbia. As of January 1, 2014, an Australian worker who believes he or she has been bullied may apply to the Fair Work Commission for an investigation and if cause is found, have an order issued to the employer to stop the bullying.

Ellen’s very helpful transnational resource, Bullying, Violence, Harassment, Discrimination and Stress – Emerging Workplace Health and Safety Issues, updated this year, is available from the Isoceles Group, with which she is affiliated.

Kerri Stone asks why the Incognito story

Law professor Kerri Stone (Florida International U.), in a Huffington Post piece, examines how a story involving NFL players has brought workplace bullying to the public spotlight:

In the wake of the Richie Incognito suspension, a big question that we need to ask is…why? With bullying so rampant in society, why has this story captivated the public imagination? And why did the Dolphins decide to suspend him that Sunday afternoon after initially defending him in a statement released just that morning?

My commentary

I was interviewed by Alex Hopkins for the Washington Times last week:

David C. Yamada, a law professor and director of Suffolk University Law School’s New Workplace Institute, has drafted a model “Healthy Workplace Bill” which tries to define what constitutes an “abusive work environment.”

He wrote recently that workplace bullying tends to get overlooked because the human interest appeal typically doesn’t reach the level of bullying children.

“Although workplace bullying is one of the most common forms of interpersonal abuse at work, most people targeted for this mistreatment are unlikely to find the media interested in their stories. In [Miami Dolphins] case, without the growing media attention, it’s possible that the whole thing would’ve been swept under the rug,” said Mr. Yamada. “Most bullying targets must deal with the abuse on a wildly uneven playing field, and having a legal wedge will help to level things out.”

I also wrote a blog post last week, “Nine preliminary lessons from the Miami Dolphins workplace bullying story.”

Creating new workplaces

When I named the New Workplace Institute in 2006, I did so with institutional transformation in mind, hoping that it would contribute to the development of better workplaces. Some seven years later, I now realize that the term “new workplace” has at least three meanings. One involves transforming existing organizations into better places to work. Another involves creating brand new workplaces that are healthier and happier than their predecessors. And yet a third involves individuals finding new places to work, hopefully much better than the ones they left, and possibly including a career shift.

Each form of “new workplace” brings its own opportunities and challenges. With apologies for diving rather deeply into conceptual perspectives that I’ve been mulling over during the past few months, I’d like to share a few thoughts on each:

Transforming an existing workplace

Transforming the culture of an unhealthy workplace may require blasting through hedgerows of resistance and hostility, especially in a toxic environment. If successful, the payoff can be significant. In most cases it requires a full-on commitment from the top, especially in workplaces where command & control has been the dominant decision making model. Creating transformative change from the middle or bottom of the organizational chart is not impossible, but typically such efforts can, at best, mitigate, rather than reverse, the effects of bad top-down management.

Starting a new workplace

Creating a first-rate new business or organization requires an entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to the quality of work life. Many start-ups are big on the former but neglect the latter. Energies are driven by a vision of what the entity will do, requiring long hours and close attention to endless details. The founders are “all in,” and may not anticipate the day when they hire employees who do not necessarily share their round-the-clock zeal. Unless a commitment to building a psychologically healthy workplace exists from the start, it’s more likely that this new workplace will morph into the latest employer dealing with high levels of worker dissatisfaction and disengagement.

Finding a new workplace

Finding a new, good place to work can be liberating, especially if it follows a nasty layoff or prolonged exposure to a toxic work environment. Recovery and renewal are no easy tasks under such circumstances, but they are eminently possible. In some cases it may involve a career shift. In others it may mean creating your own business. These options may require much more than “simply” looking for a new job. In any event, thinking through all this and weighing options can be the first step on the road to something better.

Many stakeholders

Creating healthy, productive, and socially responsible workplaces requires many, many stakeholders. They include individual workplaces, labor unions, business groups, advocacy & public education associations, and legal & regulatory structures. In the background, consultants, coaches, and mental health providers can help to guide institutions and individuals to and fro.

This also requires individual commitment to effecting beneficial, healthy, and constructive change. Hopefully, from time to time each of us can step back to assess our contributions toward such efforts.

Nine preliminary lessons from the Miami Dolphins workplace bullying story

As discussed here last week, the Miami Dolphins have suspended player Richie Incognito pending further investigation of claims of severe, threatening bullying behaviors toward teammate Jonathan Martin. Martin reportedly left the team after being subjected to severe hazing by a group of players, with Incognito being the ringleader of the mob.

This has become a major national story, with workplace bullying invoked frequently to describe the underlying behaviors, and the situation continues to develop. Nevertheless, it already reinforces some important lessons about understanding workplace bullying:

1. Sweeping it under the rug is often the first instinct — The Dolphins first went into denial mode when confronted with reports of Incognito’s behavior.

2. A little sunlight can prod organizations into doing the right thing — Faced with a growing amount of media scrutiny and expressions of concerns from the NFL Players Association, the Dolphins investigated the matter more thoroughly and suspended Incognito. By contrast, most bullying targets will not have media access and union support, which is one reason why targets are often left to their own devices.

3. Bullies tend to repeat their behaviors — Richie Incognito has a long track record of dirty play and has been disciplined on numerous occasions during his football career.

4. Targets of bullying are often labeled as weak and different — Jonathan Martin has played football at the highest levels, first as an outstanding member of Stanford’s highly-regarded Division I football team, then as a high draft pick and starting offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins. However, he is now being labeled as weak or soft by those who deny the impact of severe bullying and hazing. He’s also not your typical NFL player. Martin majored in Classics (the study of ancient history and language), and he hails from a family that has taken education very seriously.

5. Bystander behavior is influenced by organizational culture, and vice versa — Some of the Dolphins players have rallied to the side of Richie Incognito, as have a number of other current and former NFL players. In the macho culture of the NFL, few are brave enough to side with someone tagged as soft.

6. Bullying extends beyond protected class harassment — Racial harassment is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; generic bullying is not. Martin has experienced varieties of both. If Martin decided to pursue a racial harassment claim against the Dolphins, it is possible that some courts would disregard, or at least treat lightly, all behaviors and communications that were not expressly racial in content. This is yet another reason why we need direct legal protections against workplace bullying.

7. Bosses can be complicit in what appears to be peer-to-peer bullying — Now reports have surfaced that earlier this season, Dolphins assistant coaches asked Incognito to help “toughen up” Martin.

8. Unions can play an important role in addressing workplace bullying — Unions are obliged under law to represent the interests of all members, including those who may be accused of wrongdoing. Thus, the NFL Players Association must safeguard the rights and safety of both Martin and Incognito. Nevertheless, it appears that the union’s concerns about how the Dolphins were handling the situation helped to ensure that it would be dealt with fairly.

9. The media is starting to get it with workplace bullying — Most of the media editorial commentary has been supportive of Martin and critical of the culture of hazing in the NFL. This includes sports writers!

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Additional

I was quoted extensively in this Washington Times piece by Alex Hopkins about the Miami Dolphins situation. It’s a balanced and informative article.

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