Recently, one “Hope Springs” posted a commentary to the Facebook page of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, urging supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill to take a rhetorical high road in advocating for law reform, without referring to specific aggressors in angry, overly disparaging ways. With Hope’s permission, I’m sharing it here in its entirety:
Hello, supporters of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill.
I’d like to bring up the issue of “message discipline” and the importance of “acting politically” in promoting this important bill and winning reluctant parties to our side.
Occasionally, I have come across a post on this forum and others in which a victim of workplace bullying uses disparaging language and abusive names in calling out specific perpetrators. Some of this language has involved cursing and the bitter celebration of a perpetrator’s downfall, which -given the terroristic actions of workplace bullies- is perfectly understandable.
But, I think we have to be careful to maintain the high road at all times.
It seems important to carefully and strategically “name” the behavioral patterns of workplace bullies in a measured way and to persistently equate those patterns with adverse economic outcomes for organizations and for society at large. We have to continue to make a persuasive argument and not allow opposing forces to discredit targets of workplace bullying as “angry”, “bitter”, “difficult”, “mean”, “victim-mentality”, “adversarial” and other such epithets.
Name-calling and expressing personal bitterness towards perpetrators makes it easy for opponents to suggest that personal rivalry was involved in these situations (rather than the REALITY that victims were intentionally targeted with malicious intent by a perpetrator).
While recent research has suggested the widespread prevalence of workplace bullying (or “social violence” in the workplace as a colleague of mine puts it), people are reluctant to sign on mostly for economic reasons. Who wants to put their name on a movement that demands accountability and legal liability for managers, bosses, and politically powerful co-employees? Not too many.
So, I think we need to step back every so often and examine the messages we are sending. More and more people are getting behind this movement, because it’s based on a shared reality for a great many people. But, the momentum can easily be stopped if the general public perceives the chief proponents of this bill to be vindictive, disgruntled ex-employees with an axe to grind.
I hope that posting my concerns in this forum has not alienated people. I sincerely want this movement to succeed, and I believe as many do, that it’s only a matter of time.
But, unfortunately, it’s up to us to maintain the discipline of not resorting to the same mean-spirited tactics of those who routinely harm others in pursuit of their own egocentric need for triumph.
Yes, those of us who have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying have the right to be angry, bitter, depressed and hungry for triumph over evil. But, it might be more helpful to form support groups where we can explore these natural feelings so that they can be healed, transformed, and processed.
With the freedom that comes from the private act of processing the evil done to us -and by seeking support for our healing- we can roll up our sleeves and remember to act politically in the public sphere.
If we win, the nation wins.
Workplace bullying is a severe denial of one’s dignity, an offense that tramples over livelihood and personhood. The impulse or temptation to publicly accuse, and rage at, the perpetrators can be powerful. Furthermore, based on what we know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a condition dubbed Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, many of these feelings are natural responses to severe mistreatment and injustice.
Lawmakers and policy makers need to understand that we are talking about a form of interpersonal abuse. I believe that message is coming through, and usually not via “vindictive, disgruntled ex-employees with an axe to grind” described by Hope, but rather by individuals who are more likely to have turned their suffering inward and are now summoning the strength to share their stories and experiences for the sake of the greater good.
In any event, I understand where Hope is coming from on this. A movement associated primarily with emotions of anger and bitterness faces an uphill battle, even if those feelings are entirely justifiable. In addition, we want to avoid fueling cycles of anger and abuse. The world offers too many reminders of this dynamic, in numerous settings and on all scales.
I wish that we didn’t have to face these issues. But we live in a society that discounts or dismisses those who have been tagged as embittered or angry, sometimes to the point of giving a free pass to those who committed the wrongful actions in the first place. Against this reality, we must hone our message at times, concededly not without some struggle.