I recall a conversation some time ago with a business management professor who, after hearing about my work on workplace bullying, responded by saying that maybe someday she’ll teach about the “dark side” of work in her classes. I was a little perplexed by her comment. It wasn’t the right place to get into a longer discussion with her, but I thought to myself, how in the world can you teach students about good management if you glaze over the destructive effects of bad management?
Last year I wrote about this question of emphasizing the positive vs. the negative aspects of work:
The bottom line is that we need to understand the light and dark sides of work in order to be effective change agents. If we don’t acknowledge that psychopaths, almost psychopaths, and narcissists constitute a narrow but sizable and destructive bandwidth of CEOs and managers, then we often will be blind to the darkness coming out of certain corner offices and boardrooms. If we overlook the possibilities of creating healthy, even (yes) happy job situations and of transcending debilitating fight-or-flight work environments, then we often will find ourselves stuck in a dark place for an extended period of time.
These themes connect to broader frames of how to create a society that embraces human dignity. If we do not understand the effects of dignity violations, then we really can’t grasp what dignity is all about in the first place.
This is among the reasons why I’ve been forging a closer connection with Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS), a global, multidisciplinary network of scholars, activists, practitioners, and students dedicated to advancing human dignity and reducing the experience of humiliation. I have served on the HumanDHS global advisory board for several years, and recently I agreed to join its board of directors.
Humiliation is a powerful and uncomfortable word. Interestingly, it’s also what has drawn me to this group. During my early exchanges with HumanDHS founding president Evelin Lindner and director Linda Hartling, I learned that the decision to include humiliation in the group’s name was an intentional one, signaling the importance of comprehending how dignity violations affect individuals and society. It made eminent sense. After all, we can affirm, support, create, and defend human dignity only if we acknowledge, prevent, and respond to humiliation, abuse, and mistreatment. Otherwise, our supposed embrace of dignity may be a shallow one.
So how do we keep the balance? How do we avoid turning dignity into a superficial, feel-good concept, without letting the dark side of human behavior consume us? I have an answer-in-progress: Join with others who are striving to attain that balance. Toward that end, in December I will once again board a train for New York City to participate in HumanDHS’s annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, held at Columbia University Teachers College. There I will join a wonderful group of people from around the world to share various projects, writings, initiatives, and research, as well as each other’s good company.
Readers in the New York City area may want to attend the workshop’s public event, “Honoring Alfred Nobel’s Message,” on Thursday, December 3.
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