For years, the Workplace Bullying Institute has been sponsoring Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week (link here), which provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon and grow a larger movement addressing workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse. In attempting to capture the ongoing challenge before us, I found myself drawn to the title of a book about one of my favorite television series, All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire (2018), by Jonathan Abrams.
I’ll have more to say about The Wire and that book below, but for now let’s zero in on its title: All the Pieces Matter. Exactly. This work continues to be informed by intersecting systems of employment relations, mental health counseling, and law and public policy, to name a few.
In our co-edited book set, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (2019), Dr. Maureen Duffy and I included a final chapter attempting to frame a broad agenda for addressing these forms of interpersonal abuse over the long haul. We identified these core areas as focal points:
- Encouraging organizational prevention and responses;
- Building a cadre of trauma-informed mental health counselors and coaches who understand bullying and mobbing;
- Enacting and implementing laws and public policies designed to address abuse at work;
- Changing workplace standards to embrace values-driven cultures;
- Working towards a more “dignitarian” society inside and outside of our workplaces.
In other words, we’re talking about various systems, which leads me…
…Back to The Wire and All the Pieces Matter
The Wire is a drama series set in Baltimore that ran on HBO from 2002 to 2008. Starting with an initial focus on policing and the drug trade that threads throughout the series, it then takes deep looks into blue-collar work at the city’s docks, public education, urban politics, and the media. Overall, The Wire is driven by characters and their stories, all of which interact with powerful, interwoven systems that are hugely resistant to change.
With intricate storylines that develop slowly and require a viewer’s close attention to follow, The Wire attracted mixed reviews at first, and it never drew a large audience. However, by the end of its run, it had become recognized as one of the best dramas ever. Since then, The Wire has been the rare television program whose afterlife has accorded it the status of a classic.
At the center of The Wire is its brilliant creator, David Simon, who envisioned the series as a form of dramatic social commentary that raises questions about effecting change. While reading All the Pieces Matter, I found some of his quotes very relevant to the core subject matter of this blog. Let me explain.
Bullying and mobbing are, of course, the sum of individual behaviors. In addition, they are enabled, protected, and sometimes encouraged by systems (or cultures, if you will) that reflect certain values and power dynamics. In All the Pieces Matter, David Simon said this about the challenges of reforming systems:
The things that reform systems are trauma. Great trauma. Nobody gives up status quo without being pushed to the wall. I believe that politically. The great reformations of society are the result of undue excess and undue cruelty. The reason you have collective bargaining in America and it became powerful is that workers were pushed to the starvation point. The reason that you have the civil rights we do is that people were hanging from trees.
Simon expressed optimism that individuals can change, while sharing significant doubts that systems can self-reform. Rather, he said, systemic change requires outside pressure and awareness of trauma that cut through inhumanity or indifference.
So that’s how David Simon, The Wire, and All the Pieces Matter help to inform my perspectives on how we address interpersonal abuse at work. We are talking about systems that are very resistant to change. Some of the most powerful stakeholders actually benefit from the status quo of allowing abuse to go unchecked. Accordingly, citing the trauma and destruction of bullying and mobbing at work, it’s up to us to articulate a continuing, compelling, and responsibly bold call for systemic changes and positive evolutions.