Watch: “The Dignity of an Intellectual Life for All”

Dear readers, on October 21, I hosted a program titled “The Dignity of an Intellectual Life for All.” Focusing on Dr. Zena Hitz’s thought-provoking book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (2020), the program examined the value of embracing the liberal arts and humanities for their own sake and considered how a rich intellectual life for everyone enhances human dignity. We opened with a conversation featuring Dr. Hitz, followed by a responsive panel comprised of four distinguished educators.

It turned out to be a wonderfully engaging, conversational program. A freely accessible recording has now been posted to YouTube. Go here to watch it!

Here are the program details:

Hosted by Suffolk University Law School and co-sponsored by:

Featured Speaker

Zena Hitz, Tutor, St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD, and author, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press, 2020).

Guest Panelists

Joseph Coulson, President, Harrison Middleton University

Hilda Demuth-Lutze, English teacher (ret.), Chesterton High School, IN, and author of historical fiction

Amy Thomas Elder, Instructor, Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, University of Chicago, Graham School

Linda Hartling, Director, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies

Moderator

David Yamada, Professor of Law, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA

This program was supported by the Faculty Initiatives Fund at Suffolk University Law School.

From genocide to bullying, may remembrance inspire our commitment

The social media image that most commanded my attention on Friday morning was a photo of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, taken in May 1960, on the day that the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam was first opened to the public. Otto Frank was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Nazi concentration camps. Daughters Anne and Margot, and wife Edith, all perished before they could be liberated.

Staring at that photograph, I tried to imagine what was going through Mr. Frank’s mind. But I understood that I could never truly comprehend his experience and the journey that brought him back to the place where he, his family, and four other Jewish residents spent some two years in hiding before they were discovered and eventually transported to Auschwitz.

Remembrance

And yet, even if we do not share direct memories of the Holocaust, maintaining a collective sense of remembrance, buoyed by historical literacy, is central to our understanding of how humans can engage in seemingly unthinkable atrocities. Indeed, I believe that the Nazi genocide is a key starting place for grasping our capacity for cruelty. As I wrote eight years ago:

We need to understand the Holocaust because there is no more documented, memorialized, and analyzed chapter of widespread, deliberate, orchestrated human atrocity in our history. If we want to grasp how human beings in a “modern” era can inflict horrific cruelties on others  — systematically and interpersonally — then the Holocaust is at the core of our understanding.

Despite the ample historical record, we may be losing our collective memory of the Holocaust, at least in the U.S. In 2018, Julie Zauzmer reported for the Washington Post:

Two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll cannot identify what Auschwitz is, according to a study released on Holocaust Remembrance Day that found that knowledge of the genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II is not robust among American adults.

Twenty-two percent of millennials in the poll said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it — twice the percentage of U.S. adults as a whole who said the same.

. . . Asked to identify what Auschwitz is, 41 percent of respondents and 66 percent of millennials could not come up with a correct response identifying it as a concentration camp or extermination camp.

From genocide to bullying

Years ago, as I began my deeper dives into the dynamics of bullying and mobbing at work, I looked to the nature of genocidal behavior for understanding the eliminationist instincts that appear to be present in attempts to force someone out of a workplace and even wreck their careers. I took these steps somewhat gingerly, because I wasn’t sure of the appropriateness of comparing genocides to even the worst kinds of workplace mistreatment. You might sense these tentative steps in what I wrote back in 2011:

Do the individual and collective behaviors of the Holocaust help us to understand severe, targeted, personally destructive workplace bullying?

The question has been discussed within the workplace anti-bullying movement and requires respectful contemplation. I am well aware of the casual overuse of references to Hitler and the Nazis in our popular culture, especially in today’s overheated political discourse. Moreover, I acknowledge the dangers of comparing anything to the Holocaust, an outrage so profound that it is nearly impossible to fathom but for the abundant factual record.

Nevertheless, I have steeped myself in the experiences and literature of workplace bullying, and I have read many works about the Holocaust. Although the two forms of mistreatment are hardly equivalent — even the worst forms of workplace bullying are a world away from genocide — there are real connections between them.

I credit two important individuals for helping to validate my hesitantly shared belief that genocide and bullying exist together on a spectrum, connected by common human toxicities and failings.

First, Barbara Coloroso is an internationally recognized authority on school bullying whose work has also extended into the realm of human rights generally. In her book Extraordinary Evil: A Short Walk to Genocide (2007), she recounted how she used a talk at the University of Rwanda to explain “how it was a short walk from schoolyard bullying to criminal bullying (hate crime) to genocide,” invoking the roles of aggressor, bullying target, and bystander.

Second, Dr. Edith Eger is a noted trauma therapist, author, and Auschwitz survivor. At a conference in 2017, I had the bracing task of immediately following her eloquent keynote speech with my presentation about workplace bullying and mobbing. Looking periodically at Dr. Edie (as she is known) as she sat in the front row, I shared with everyone my unease about comparing the Holocaust to work abuse, especially in the presence of someone who had survived the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. Thankfully, when I finished my talk, Dr. Edie applauded enthusiastically and gave me a warm nod of approval. I was both relieved and honored by her response.

Commitment

In the realm of employment relations, we often use the terms workplace bullying and workplace incivility as a matched pair, with some differentiating them only slightly by severity and intention. However, I’ve come to regard workplace bullying, mobbing, and related behaviors as being closer in essential character to the even more virulent behaviors that target people for abuse or extinction en masse. The degree and extent of harm may vary greatly, but the driving psychological and social forces bear many likenesses.

Indeed, over the years, the worst accounts of workplace mistreatment that I’ve known of have had nothing to do with incompetent management or everyday incivilities. Rather, they’ve typically shared a malicious intention to diminish, undermine, and harm someone, to drive them out of the organization, and perhaps even to destroy their ability to earn a living. In each of these instances, an eliminationist instinct has been very present, usually enabled and protected by institutional cultures.

Ultimately, all behaviors on this spectrum of cruelty and toxic abuse of power demand our responses. Thus, remembrance should inspire our ongoing commitment to understand and address these behaviors, wherever they may appear. 

For my part, I’ll continue my research, writing, and advocacy on workplace bullying and related topics. That work is a lifelong commitment. In addition, the contemplations offered above, some of which draw upon previous writings posted to this blog, represent some early thinking steps towards a more ambitious project that examines the varied manifestations of cruelty and abuse and assesses how law and public policy have responded to them. My objective is to contribute to a broader and deeper understanding of the differences and commonalities among these forms of severe mistreatment and what we can do about them.

We need to dig beneath generic references to “toxic workplaces”

(image courtesy of clipart-library.com)

If you’ve been following media coverage of some of the not-so-wonderful aspects of the current American workplace, then you may have encountered the growing cacophony of references to “toxic workplaces,” “toxic work environments,” “toxic jobs,” and the like. (If you doubt me, do a few Google searches and you’ll quickly see what I mean!)

It appears that a mix of the following has given rise to generic references about toxic work settings:

  • The MeToo movement;
  • The pandemic and overwork of workers in essential job categories;
  • The Great Resignation;
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion;
  • Political and social discord;
  • Bullying and incivility;
  • Attention to bad bosses;
  • Wage stagnation and benefit cuts;
  • The recent dramatic uptick in union organizing.

Organizational behavior research from years ago taught me that different forms of workplace mistreatment tend to run together in packs. Thus, if you encounter a workplace rife with sexual harassment, then you’re quite likely to see other forms of interpersonal mistreatment flourishing as well. Contemporary news accounts often confirm this. For example, I’ve noticed that investigative pieces focusing on sexual misconduct in a given workplace often then segue into describing behaviors that might be labeled as bullying and/or incivility.

In any event, if we wish to create healthier, happier, and more productive workplaces, then we need to dig beneath the generic tag of toxicity and ask specifically what’s going on. The results may yield different problem areas and different fixes. Some bad behaviors may be intentional. Others will fall under the categories of negligence or dysfunction. Some may implicate employment and labor law violations. Certain concerns may be organizational in nature; others may be limited to a department or working group.

It’s also true that, on occasion, frequent complainers will invoke the language of toxicity to avoid supplying specific allegations that won’t hold up. Some will do so as attempted shields against accountability for their own inadequate work performances.

That said, I feel confident in saying that there is a fair amount of genuine unhappiness and undue stress in our workplaces during this snapshot moment in time. Some of the causes may be beyond the means of even well-intentioned organizations to remedy. But good employers will address worker concerns with attention to detail and an innate sense of fairness and dignity, while bad ones will dismiss reports of workplace toxicity and sometimes pay the consequences.

“The Wire” as work primer

A few weeks after the standard wave of school Commencement ceremonies, philosophy professor Evan Selinger (Rochester Institute of Technology) took to the pages of the Boston Globe (link here) for the purpose of offering one piece of advice to recent graduates: 

It’s the 20th anniversary of “The Wire,” a television show widely regarded as the greatest series of the 21st century. Viewing it is one of the best gifts you can give yourself if you’re a recent high school or college graduate, because nothing else will prepare you so well for the workforce.

Hmm…”The Wire” as a sort of prep course for the world of work?

Yup, and here’s a good snippet of Dr. Selinger’s explanation:

“The Wire” takes a cynical look at how systems — a combination of policies, procedures, and norms — maintain the status quo and prevent reformers from sparking change. The show portrays police work as focused on generating statistics that give the appearance of crime decreasing rather than genuinely making communities safer. “The Wire” presents a broken educational system in which teachers are forced to focus their efforts on getting students to pass standardized tests rather than helping them learn information and skills that will improve their lives. It shows newspapers driven to win awards more than to cover stories that benefit the communities they serve. And it presents politicians as publicly proclaiming that they are devoted public servants while privately making shady deals and scheming to enrich themselves.

In sounding such a pessimistic tone, Selinger emphasizes that he’s doing so to offer some lessons about the real world of work. They include:

  • “First, you’ll gain a better understanding of why people in different jobs express similar grievances.”
  • “Second, you’ll develop a better appreciation of whistleblowers — of their bravery and commitment.”
  • “Third, you might give more thought to embracing the freedom, and risk, of working for yourself.”
  • “Fourth, you might approach work differently.”

Selinger explains his points in greater detail in the full piece, which I strongly recommend.

Systems, systems, and more systems

For all but the most independent of workers, dealing with systems is a regular part of our work lives. That includes wage and salary workers, independent contractors, and folks providing invaluable, often non-compensated work such as parenting and caregiving. We’re all navigating these systems, which may run the gamut between functional and dysfunctional.

I have written a lot about systems in articles posted to this blog. They include, among others:

  • Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week 2021: All the Pieces Matter (2021) (link here);
  • The Holocaust is a key to understanding interpersonal abuse and systems that enable it (2018) (link here);
  • Workplace bullying and mobbing: Toxic systems and the eliminationist mindset (2017) (link here);
  • Systems enable workplace bullying, so where are the systems to stop it? (2017) (link here).

The centrality of systems in our lives is why I, too, join with Dr. Selinger in recommending “The Wire” as a primer on the realities of work.

“The Wire,” speaking personally

For yours truly, “The Wire” has had an oddly therapeutic effect. I’m a reform-minded person by nature, and I can be somewhat impatient about the pace of change. “The Wire” has reminded me that positive change is often incremental and can be reversed in a second. It has taught me how organizations can be obdurate, i.e., stubbornly refusing to change. It also has illustrated how change can be foolish, negative, or yield unexpected consequences (good and bad).

In Jonathan Abrams’ All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire (2018), David Simon, the show’s brilliant creator, 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 doubts that systems can self-reform. Instead, he believes that systemic change requires outside pressure and awareness of trauma that cut through inhumanity or indifference.

It’s a realpolitik view from a long-time, deeply insightful observer of our condition. And while these realities haven’t softened my desire to be an agent for positive change, they have made me more committed towards prompting good results over the long haul.

On expanding our view of global leadership to embrace human dignity

The term “global leadership” is strongly associated with economic, political, and social dominance in a neoliberal context. Degree programs using global leadership or similar monikers tend to be offered through graduate schools of business, and they usually emphasize market command in terms of ideas, information, and products. The latter point also applies to business conferences and workshops invoking the term.

However, at last December’s Annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, hosted by Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HDHS), I suggested that we should reframe global leadership through lenses of servant leadership and global stewardship. I expounded upon this topic and related it to themes of compassionate justice and therapeutic jurisprudence during my short remarks (under 10 minutes), which you may access here.

Definitions

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, it may help to define terms, and I’ll simply draw from Wikipedia:

Servant leadership is a…

…leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of their company or organization. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.

Stewardship is an…

…ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, cultural resources etc.

With these general definitions as guideposts, I would like us to conceptualize and practice global leadership in a way that emphasizes our roles as stewards of, and servants to, the health of this planet and its inhabitants. 

Google hits

Last fall, in preparation for the HDHS workshop, I did a quick Google search to see how many “hits” certain relevant terms would yield. Here is what I found:

  • Search “global leadership” = ~1,060,000,000 hits
  • Search “global stewardship” = ~93,000,000 hits
  • Search “servant leadership” = ~57,000,000 hits

Clearly, among these terms, “global leadership” holds sway. Hence my belief that we should invoke it to advance dignitarian values, while elevating global stewardship and servant leadership in association with the core term.

Legal systems

As I further noted in my HDHS presentation, we have to apply these concepts of servant leadership and stewardship to those served by our legal systems, on a global level. After all:

  • Many are ill-served by it right now.
  • Our laws & public policies and their applications are not necessarily just.
  • The experiences of litigation and dispute resolution can be traumatizing in and of themselves.
  • Access to quality legal assistance is far from universal.

One of the answers to this is the field of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), which examines whether our laws, legal systems, and legal institutions support or undermine individual and societal well-being and psychologically healthy outcomes in legal proceedings. I have discussed TJ often on this blog. In 2017, I helped to create the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, and last year I published a thorough assessment of the field, “Therapeutic Jurisprudence: Foundations, Expansion, and Assessment,” in the University of Miami Law Review. You may freely access it here.

On disability bullying

We have long known that children who have disabilities are more likely to experience bullying behaviors than their peers who are perceived as being non-disabled. The National Bullying Prevention Center (link here), for example, shares that in 10 U.S. studies examining “the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, all of these studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.”

Indeed, search the term “disability bullying” and you’ll find the top hits centering almost exclusively around bullying of kids with disabilities. I’m glad that we have established that connection. At the very least, it validates the experiences of those being targeted and helps us to focus on preventive and responsive measures.

What about bullying of adults with disabilities?

We see less attention given to bullying of adults who have disabilities. That’s among the reasons why I welcomed a recent column by disability expert Andrew Pulrang, “The Many Flavors Of Disability Bullying” (Forbes.com, link here):

There are few things as simply and straightforwardly awful as bullying disabled people. But there is so much more to do about ableist bullying than just condemning it.

Ableist bullying is surprisingly difficult to recognize and understand, because it’s more than one thing, and has has many facets and flavors.

Pulrang goes on to identify predominant forms of bullying behaviors directed at adults with disabilities:

  • “Simple, superficial mockery,” such as making fun of appearances, physical movements, and mental health conditions;
  • “Dismissing complaints” over problems that persons with disabilities might face;
  • “Portraying disabled people as privileged and entitled” as they struggle to deal with impairments and seek accommodations;
  • Making jokes about someone’s disability in their presence, as if to test their sense of humor; and,
  • Gaslighting disabled individuals into questioning their perceptions of reality.

He concludes:

To fight disability bullying, people of all backgrounds and roles need to not only refrain from these bullying behaviors, but also engage with and refute the kinds of thinking and assumptions that prompt them.

The legal angle

At times, those subjected to these forms of mistreatment may have legal recourse via civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. In workplace and public accommodations settings, the Americans with Disabilities Act figures most prominently. Here is where questions of reasonable accommodation come into play.

Furthermore, if someone is being subjected to workplace harassment because of their disability, they may have a hostile work environment claim under the ADA. However, such legal claims are hard to win. Occasional jokes or putdowns about a disability, for example, may not be sufficient to state a harassment claim under the ADA.

Ultimately…

A combination of more enlightened human behaviors and stronger legal enforcement will diminish bullying behaviors directed at people with disabilities. Obviously we have work to do on this front. If you doubt this, then consider that less than six years ago, the U.S. elected a President who cruelly mocked a reporter’s disability while on the campaign trail.

In the past, this one act would’ve been sufficient to self-torpedo any political campaign. I can only surmise that in 2016, some people voted for him in spite of this incident, while others were more inclined to vote for him because of it. Both possibilities teach us sad but important lessons about unfinished business in terms of advancing human dignity.

Sharing insights about workplace bullying and mobbing in SafeHarbor, Part III

This year, I’ve been writing about my visits to SafeHarbor (link here), the online site created by Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, to serve as “a community dedicated to the people affected by workplace bullying and those devoted to helping them.” I’ve also shared some past blog articles that I’ve posted for SafeHarbor members.

During my visit to SafeHarbor this evening, it struck me how a combination of knowledge, understanding, and — yes — technology has brought us to where a site like this can exist and sustain. Members can start discussions, comment on existing threads, and link articles, thereby contributing to an educative and supportive dynamic that can overcome distance and physical separation.

When I joined forces with Gary and Ruth Namie in the late 1990s, the internet was still in its infancy, with the first generation of online discussion boards offering a glimpse of what might come. While I have very mixed feelings about the omnipresence of digital technology in our lives, I am glad that we can harness it for good purposes such as this one.

Once again, here are more past blog articles that I’ve posted to SafeHarbor:

  • Not “Set for Life”: Boomers facing layoffs, discrimination, and bullying at work (2012) (link here)
  • Are calls for resilience and “grit” an indirect form of victim shaming & blaming? (2016, rev. 2019 & 2022) (link here)
  • Typing your workplace culture (2009; rev. 2022) (link here)
  • Music as therapy (2021) (link here)
  • On the social responsibilities of writers (2019) (link here)
  • Myths and realities about working in the non-profit sector (2014) (link here)
  • Let’s follow an Eightfold Path to psychologically healthy workplaces (2019) (link here)
  • Dealing with “gatekeepers” at work: Beware of Dr. No (2011; rev. 2020) (link here)
  • “How can I make a living doing workplace anti-bullying work?” (2019) (link here)
  • Five signs of the eliminationist instinct in today’s workplaces (2015) (link here)

A degrading money grab for classroom supplies in South Dakota

I’ve been meaning to write about a December spectacle in South Dakota, whereby public school teachers participated in a wild grab for 5,000 $1 bills in the middle of a hockey rink, before cheering spectators. This “Dash for Cash” was organized to give the contestants a chance to collect money for badly needed schoolroom supplies. As reported by Julian Mark for The Washington Post (link here):

At a junior hockey game in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Saturday night, $5,000 in one-dollar bills was dumped onto a carpet in the middle of the ice as 10 local teachers readied themselves to shovel up as much of it as they could.

When the competition began, the teachers — all wearing hockey helmets — crawled into the pile of cash, frantically stuffing the bills into their shirts as an arena of spectators hollered and cheered until every dollar was snatched up.

…Critics said the image of teachers on their hands and knees, scrambling for low-denomination bills, was “dehumanizing” and even “dystopian,” especially as teachers are paid relatively small salaries in South Dakota and nationwide.

…The event was billed as an opportunity for teachers to gather money for their classroom needs…. Schools had to apply for the competition, and teachers had to explain how they would use the money they won….

Although the intentions of the event sponsor — a local junior hockey league club — may have been good, the optics were pretty awful: Low-paid teachers on their knees in a public arena, stuffing $1 bills into their pockets so they could buy supplies for their students. As anyone familiar with K-12 education knows, many dedicated teachers selflessly spend substantial amounts of their own money to stock their classrooms, thanks in large part to wholly inadequate funding for our schools.

I’m sure that the money has been put to good use. But given the overall circumstances, the event undermined the dignity of public educators. If you doubt this assertion, can you imagine offering those working in other vocations the “opportunity” to scramble for $1 bills on behalf of those they serve? Doctors? Social workers? Lawyers? Engineers?

Sharing insights about workplace bullying and mobbing in SafeHarbor, Part II

In my last post, I wrote about my visits to SafeHarbor (link here), the online site created by Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, to serve as “a community dedicated to the people affected by workplace bullying and those devoted to helping them.” I also shared some past blog pieces that I’ve posted for SafeHarbor members.

Creating safe online spaces surrounding difficult and sometimes painful topics is a challenge, and the success of SafeHarbor so far has been the generation of a spirit of support, understanding, and kindness. Gentle is the word I would use to describe the online voices of those serving as facilitators and discussion leaders. This does not preclude respectful differences of opinion. But it does set a peaceful vibe that runs counter to the experiences that brought many to the site.

Here are more past blog articles that I’ve posted to SafeHarbor:

  • Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven? (2009, rev. 2014) (link here)
  • How harmful thought patterns about workplace bullying and mobbing may accelerate the aging process (2019) (link here)
  • When a prominent employee is fired for creating “an abusive work environment” (2018) (link here)
  • We understand human dignity only if we also comprehend humiliation and abuse (2015) (link here)
  • Workplace mistreatment: The importance of cross-situational empathy (2015) (link here)
  • Shame-based organizations: When workplaces resemble dysfunctional families (2015) (link here)
  • “Jerks at work” vs. workplace soul stalkers (2017) (link here)
  • “Master and servant”: The roots of American employment law (2013) (link here)
  • Life lessons from Dr. Edith Eger, Auschwitz survivor (2018) (link here)
  • What separates the “best” workplace abusers from the rest? (2015, rev. 2019) (link here)

On moral courage and sacrificing privilege: When Betty White stood for inclusion in 1954

With Betty White’s passing at the age of 99, this internet meme about White refusing to ban Arthur Duncan, an African American dancer, from the cast of her television variety show in 1954, is getting wide circulation.

Of course, the social media world is full of distortions and fabrications. But this story is true.

In fact, amid the countless remembrances of White published upon her death, the Washington Post includes a deeper look into that 1954 episode, as reported by Gillian Brockell (link here):

White made a career playing sweet characters with hidden — and hilarious — grit, and that quality goes all the way back to her first televised variety show, where, as the host and producer, she defied racist demands to get rid of Duncan because he was Black.

Her response?

“Live with it.”

…“And all through the South, there was this whole ruckus,” White remembered in [a 2018 documentary about her life]. “They were going to take our show off the air if we didn’t get rid of Arthur, because he was Black.”

“People in the South resented me being on the show, and they wanted me thrown out,” Duncan agreed. “But there was never a question at all.”

And, as Brockell notes, this was a momentous time for civil rights:

This was in 1954. As in, the year the Supreme Court handed down the Brown vs. Board of Education decision banning segregated schools. As in, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock Nine and the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-ins.

On moral courage and sacrificing privilege

By the mid-1950s, Betty White was already a pioneer, a woman getting featured roles in an emerging medium, including a variety show bearing her name. But this was long before she was Betty White, a beloved figure to many generations. As a relatively young female host and producer in what was very much a white man’s world in terms of power and control, she had a lot to lose by resisting pressures to satisfy a large, if not admirable, demographic.

And yet she was willing to sacrifice some of her hard-earned and hardly secure privilege to stand for inclusion. That’s what moral courage is about in an everyday work setting. As I wrote some six years ago:

There are many scenarios in which positive social change can occur in society, including our workplaces. With virtually any of these possibilities, chances of success will be increased when supporters of change are willing to sacrifice some of their privilege in order to advance a cause.

By privilege I refer to some advantage, by virtue of wealth, demographic status, social standing or popularity, organizational rank, legal right, and/or inherited trait. And when I say sacrificing privilege, I mean being counted in a way that could jeopardize some of that advantage. It may mean speaking up in a meeting, intervening as a bystander, endorsing an unpopular yet principled position, or otherwise doing or saying something that potentially puts one at odds with supporters, sponsors, or the in-crowd.

Betty White’s eclectic talents, comic genius, and famous quips are being rightly celebrated now. In addition, let’s remember that she was willing to stand on principle, typically in a manner that was quick to the point without being overly preachy. Among other things, she also supported women’s rights and the LGBTQ community, and she passionately advocated for the well-being of animals. In a world where way too many privileged people are unwilling to jeopardize even the smallest bits of their comfortable standing for something bigger than themselves, Betty White modeled a different example of success.

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