Trump: If you’re bullied, get over it

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Donald Trump continues his apparently relentless campaign to prove that he is the most empathy-free presidential candidate in U.S. history. During an interview with Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly, he shares his view that targets of bullying just have to get over it. As reported by the Associated Press:

Months after he savaged her on Twitter and elsewhere, Donald Trump tells Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly that people who are bullied “gotta get over it” and fight back.

. . . Trump says he’s a counterpuncher who goes after people when they go after him, only 10 times harder.

Asked if he was ever bullied, the Republican presidential candidate said no. But he said bullying doesn’t just happen to children. “People are bullied when they’re 55,” he said.

For the sake of my own sanity, I have avoided paying too much attention to Trump. However, I have been well aware of him, going back to when I lived in New York City during the “greed is good” decade of the 1980s. It was then that his now familiar displays of narcissism and arrogance became his personal behavioral brand.

Correspondingly, I have yet to see evidence of genuine empathy or kindness in the man.

In a seemingly unprecedented way for a presidential candidate, Trump is attracting the attention of psychologists who are publicly commenting on what makes him tick. In the forthcoming issue of The Atlantic, psychologist Dan P. McAdams (Northwestern U.) probes the Trump psyche and concludes:

Who, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.

Okay, so the race for President is not necessarily about finding a good and kind soul. I get that. However, let’s think about the stability of someone who justifies punching back “10 times harder” when he feels wronged. Does this mean that a minor act of military aggression against the U.S. would — in his so-called judgment — justify a massive retaliatory strike? What would it take to provoke him into unleashing America’s nuclear arsenal?

We are frighteningly close to being one November election away from finding out the answers.

Are calls for resilience and “grit” an indirect form of victim shaming & blaming?

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Last December, literary critic and New York Times editor Parul Sehgal questioned the growing chorus of calls for greater resilience and grit on the part of younger folks. In a piece for the Times Sunday magazine, she wrote:

Resilience is fleet, adaptive, pragmatic — and it has become an obsession among middle-­class parents who want to prepare their children to withstand a world that won’t always go their way. ‘‘Grit,’’ a close cousin of ‘‘resilience,’’ has emerged as education’s magic mantra — a corrective to decades of helicopter parenting.

. . . But where ‘‘resilience’’ can suggest new avenues for civic infrastructure — admitting that disaster can’t always be diverted and shifting the focus to survival strategies — it is indistinguishable from classic American bootstrap logic when it is applied to individuals, placing all the burden of success and failure on a person’s character.

Sehgal examines these calls for resilience in the context of younger folks on college campuses, especially when used to counter students’ concerns about racial, ethnic, and gender inclusion. Many critics of these advocacy efforts are suggesting that today’s students are too soft and take offense too easily. Sehgal, however, suggests that “demands for resilience have become a cleverly coded way to shame those speaking out against injustices.”

This debate is likely to become more intense. Right now, psychologist Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016) is one of the hottest new non-fiction books. In a recent interview in the Times’ Education Life supplement, she summons her research to argue that grit is the most significant factor in determining someone’s likelihood of success:

My lab has found that [grit] beats the pants off I.Q., SAT scores, physical fitness and a bazillion other measures to help us know in advance which individuals will be successful in some situations.

Duckworth says that once someone identifies an interest or passion, they should then pursue it with determination:

So once you’ve fostered an interest, then, and only then, can you do the kind of difficult, effortful and sometimes frustrating practice that truly makes you better. Another thing is really maintaining a sense of hope or resilience, even when there are setbacks.

Relationship to workplace bullying and incivility

I’m especially interested in this topic because it carries great relevance for the workplace. One of the most common and misdirected responses to concerns about workplace bullying is that many of the targets are weaklings who cannot deal with the normal ups and downs of a job. Furthermore, some confuse abusive bullying with lesser forms of negative workplace behavior, such as incivility and disrespect.

My sense of this?

First, genuine workplace bullying is about abuse, not bad manners or even angry arguments and disagreements. We need to keep reinforcing the point that bullying is not about a bad day at the office or generally lousy management.

Second, treating others abusively is wrong, and that includes workplace settings. It doesn’t matter if the intended target of that abuse is “strong,” “weak,” or somewhere in between.

Third, an abuser isn’t “off the hook” because he happens to target someone who is more vulnerable. In fact, if he goes after someone because he perceives a person’s vulnerability, well, that speaks volumes about the messed up ethics, morality, and psychological make up of the abuser.

Fourth, most of us stand to benefit by being resilient. For all but the rarely blessed, life will deliver its share of setbacks, disappointments, and sometimes hard body blows. The better we can process and deal with these ups and downs, the better our overall lives will be.

Finally, having a greater reserve of resilience and grit can help us to cope with the really bad stuff at work, including bullying, mobbing, and harassment. This reserve is not bottomless, however, as many resilient and gritty individuals have experienced. Just about everyone has a breaking point, and there are countless instances of work abuse that have taken people past it.

Bottom line? Let’s strive for less interpersonal mistreatment and more individual resilience. And let’s take more personal and social responsibility for our actions and the state of the world.

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Charging tuition for credit-bearing, unpaid internships

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I’m delighted that Washington Post reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel is shining a light on the all-too-common practice of colleges and universities charging full tuition for unpaid internships that earn academic credit. In a front-page, bottom-of-the-fold story in today’s edition, she reports on Seton Hall University (New Jersey) students who are mounting a petition drive, calling upon the university to stop charging for internship credits:

Seton Hall University senior [Joshua Siegel] is among a group of students petitioning the school in South Orange, N.J., to stop charging for internship credits.

“It’s unfortunate that the school, which is not providing the service, not facilitating the process, not suffering any strain on its resources, feels it is owed compensation for me performing a function on my own,” Siegel said.

The university is responding by saying that the resources invested in overseeing, supervising, and monitoring internships justify that tuition charges. This response echoes what others within the higher education industry are saying in defending this practice.

True, a university expends resources in sponsoring credit-earning internship programs. However, those resources are largely administrative, with some faculty oversight that doesn’t come close to demanding the time and effort devoted to traditional classroom teaching and evaluation of students. I believe that charging some fee for facilitating and overseeing credit-earning internships is appropriate, but not close to full tuition.

Here’s one of my quotes in the Washington Post article:

“This is a huge ethical issue for universities that they are sneaking under the rug,” said David Yamada, director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. “In this era of skyrocketing student debt, the fact that students are probably having to borrow money to do an internship for free is appalling.”

Insurance coverage for online workplace bullying and harassment?

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When safety risks are such that the insurance industry is addressing them, then you know they are both costly and frequent. And so it is with cyberbullying, with at least one major insurer now moving to cover expenses resulting from electronic bullying and harassment.

Jim Finkle, in a piece for Reuters news service, reports that Chubb, one of the nation’s largest insurance companies, now offers a $70/year rider to its master family protection policy, providing $60,000 of coverage “for expenses resulting from ‘harassment and intimidation’ over personal computers, telephones or mobile devices.” Finkle adds:

Covered costs include psychiatric care, temporary relocation services, education expenses, public relations services and cyber security consulting.

The policy kicks in when cyber bullying results in wrongful termination, false arrest, wrongful discipline at a school or a diagnosis of debilitating shock, mental anguish or mental injury.

Right now, the policy rider is available in only four states — “Colorado, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin” — but the company is taking it nationwide.

Potential coverage for workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment

Although it’s likely that school-related bullying has figured most prominently in Chubb’s decision to offer this policy, the inclusion of wrongful termination and diagnoses of mental anguish or injury generally as triggering events indicates that electronic forms of workplace abuse are also covered.

Of course, this may lead to tricky questions under the policy, as bullying, mobbing, and harassment at work often mix face-to-face, behind-the-back, and online behaviors. Insurance companies are not generally known for generous interpretations of their own policies, so I can imagine some disputes arising over eligible and ineligible forms of workplace mistreatment.

Further evidence

This isn’t the first time that the insurance industry has started to grapple with workplace bullying. Five years ago, I reported that insurance companies are starting to include bullying-related legal disputes in their employment practice liability insurance policies for employers. This development was prompted by the likelihood of workplace anti-bullying legislation such as the Healthy Workplace Bill being enacted.

When it comes to understanding risk assessment, the insurance industry is among the leading indicators. This is all further evidence of growing public understanding about bullying behaviors and their effects on individuals and organizations.

A $400 question: America’s desperate and dwindling middle class

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Neal Gabler is a successful writer whose personal account of sliding down the economic ladder due to career ups and downs, kids’ college costs, and questionable spending decisions has gone viral. Published in the current issue of The Atlantic, Gabler’s tale of being in the heart of midlife with precarious personal finances and dubious retirement prospects has struck a chord.

Before jumping into his own story, Gabler shares facts and figures that should give all of us a chill, including a recent Federal Reserve Board survey of American consumers, which featured a question about how respondents would cover an unexpected $400 expense:

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Holy smokes.

Gabler counts himself among those who would have trouble scrounging up $400. He makes clear that he’s not blaming the world for his situation; in fact, he takes responsibility for his actions and decisions:

I don’t ask for or expect any sympathy. I am responsible for my quagmire—no one else. I didn’t get gulled into overextending myself by unscrupulous credit merchants. Basically, I screwed up, royally. I lived beyond my means, primarily because my means kept dwindling. I didn’t take the actions I should have taken, like selling my house and downsizing, though selling might not have covered what I owed on my mortgage.

It’s a thought provoking and sometimes disturbing piece about middle class anxieties, pressures to keep up with the Joneses, and how quickly both time and money pass through our lives.

Lingering effects of the Great Recession

Gabler may not be blaming his personal finance woes on our economic system, but plenty of evidence suggests that most Americans are subject to the slings and arrows of an unforgiving market economy and significant wealth inequalities.

Nicholas Fitz, writing for Scientific American, documents our misconceptions about wealth and income distribution in the U.S.:

The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%.

. . . The median American estimated that the CEO-to-worker pay-ratio was 30-to-1, and that ideally, it’d be 7-to-1. The reality? 354-to-1. Fifty years ago, it was 20-to-1.

Ben Leubsdorf, in a piece for the Wall Street Journal, writes about the lasting economic and psychological trauma of the Great Recession:

The recession ended seven years ago, but persistent joblessness and underemployment marred the economic expansion that followed. A growing body of research suggests the economic trauma has left financial and psychic scars on many Americans, and that those marks are likely to endure for decades.

About one in six U.S. workers became unemployed during the recession years of 2007, 2008 and 2009. Today, nearly 14 million people are still searching for a job or stuck in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work.

Even for the millions of Americans back at work, the effects of losing a job will linger, the research suggests. They will earn less for years to come. They will be less likely to own a home. Many will struggle with psychological problems. Their children will perform worse in school and may earn less in their own jobs.

Retirement prospects

Labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci (New School for Social Research) is one of the nation’s leading experts on retirement funding. Though most of her work is contained in academic articles and studies, she has recently authored a slim 116-page book, How to Retire with Enough Money: And How to Know What Enough Is (2015), which I highly recommend. Two years ago, Dr. Ghilarducci told The Week (subscription may be necessary) that “This is the first time that Americans are going to be relatively worse off than their parents or grandparents in old age.” Figures cited in the article back her up:

A stunning 45 percent of all American households with people still in their working years have nothing at all saved for retirement. Among those ages 50 to 64, 75 percent have less than $28,000 put away. Even among the most prepared Boomer households, savings average just $140,000, far too little to fund a 20-plus-year retirement. All told, Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need for a comfortable retirement, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.

In her book, Ghilarducci avoids pointing the finger at individuals for alleged overspending or failure to save. Rather, stagnant incomes and a sharp decline in employer-sponsored pension and retirement plans are among the major culprits. She urges readers to undertake both personal and political action to improve America’s retirement security prospects.

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My conclusion? We’re facing a major reckoning on a national and global levels when it comes to economic issues big and small. I concur with Dr. Ghilarducci that the responses will have to be both personal and political.

Grading exams and papers: A brief stay in the No-Fun Zone

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There are lots and lots of things that I appreciate about an academic career, but grading exams and papers is not among them! This is the slow slog of the job for me, especially with finals and term papers calling out to be marked. During post-finals grading period, virtually anything except what I’m supposed to be doing becomes fascinating by comparison: Looking out the window, listening to birds chirping, trying to recall the third-string quarterback on the 1985 Chicago Bears (Mike Tomczak), you name it.

And so it is this week, when procrastination habits usually conquered roar back with a vengeance.

I need to get back to my grading (or at least thinking about grading), but in the meantime I’m happy to share a few recent items with you:

WGBH segment on the Healthy Workplace Bill

Craig LeMoult, a reporter for WGBH news radio (an NPR station in Boston), did a story “Is It Time To Outlaw Workplace Bullying in Massachusetts?,” which included our advocacy efforts to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill. I was among those interviewed for the segment, and here’s a snippet:

“Most severely bullied employees do not have a direct line of legal recourse for that type of abuse,” said David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School who studies the issue.

. . . Yamada has written legislation to stop that kind of thing. It’s called the Healthy Workplace Bill, and it would allow victims to bring a civil claim against their employer and an individual bully. Yamada points out the bill would also give the employer the chance to avoid a penalty.

CommonWealth Magazine on unpaid internships

Colman Herman, a writer for CommonWealth Magazine, did a piece on the legality of unpaid internships for Massachusetts employers, “Unpaid internships — hard work, questionable legality.” Here’s part of what I had to say:

“There are a lot of students who simply can’t afford to work for free for such a long period of time,” says Yamada, the Suffolk law professor, “because they have to make some money — to pay their bills, to pay their tuition, to pay their expenses, and to put a roof over their head. So they have to pass up valuable internship opportunities. It doesn’t seem to me that asking for the minimum wage in return for entry-level performance is asking a lot.”

An honor from Valparaiso University

The Alumni Association of Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater, has informed me that I am a 2016 recipient of Alumni Achievement Award, given to “alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in their chosen career or area of professional life.” I will be traveling to VU’s Homecoming weekend this fall in northwest Indiana to receive the award and to participate in a program in which recipients discuss their work and how their college education and experience contributed to their lives. I am very grateful for this award and look forward to the Homecoming activities.

The Day After

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As this angry, vulgar, and often heartless American presidential campaign trudges toward its November 8 Election Day, I can’t help but wonder how we will start to pick up the pieces the day after.

This blog is mainly about work, workers, and workplaces. But the broader political climate certainly relates to jobs, the labor market, and employee relations, and that climate is quite dismal. Both the tone and substance of this campaign have been largely absent any sense of dignity, kindness, and empathy, and the interests of everyday workers and their families have been largely marginalized in the so-called debate.

Dignity, kindness, and empathy. Sheesh, I feel silly even invoking these words in association with a national campaign season, especially this one.

Such is the disconnect between our current politics and our current human needs. I hope that we can avoid a truly horrific result in November, but regardless of the outcome, we will be ripe for a reckoning and major stock taking once the votes are counted.

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