Tolerance and acceptance at work

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Journalist Joanne Richard kindly interviewed me for a Monster Canada piece on tolerance at work, timed to coincide with the United Nations’ International Tolerance Day on November 16. Here are some of my comments:

Workplaces have become more inclusive and tolerant in the past five decades, says Dr. David Yamada, internationally recognized authority on workplace bullying and employment discrimination. “More enlightened social attitudes and the messaging roles of employment discrimination laws have contributed to this progress.”

But recent divisive political antics may have set us back: “Survey data from the American Psychological Association indicate that the U.S. presidential election has had a negative effect on workplace conversations and that workers are divided by gender and generation, all to the detriment of overall productivity,” says Yamada, law professor and director of New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

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Incivility, ostracism, bullying, and harassment remain serious problems in less-than-wonderful workplaces, says Yamada. “Of course, external individual events may fuel intolerance in the workplace as well. These range from the seemingly trivial, such as sports rivalries, to the more serious, such as politics, religion, and major public events,” he says.

Bad behaviour takes its toll, including increased interpersonal conflicts, greater stress and anxiety, and drops in individual and organizational productivity, he adds.

I gave these three suggestions for creating more tolerant, inclusive workplaces:

  • “Let’s give each other some room to express our differences, to vent, and to have a bad day.”
  • “Play and work by the Golden Rule.”
  • “Contribute to building organizational cultures of acceptance and individual dignity.”

Tolerance, acceptance, and taking a stand

I must admit that I sometimes struggle with the term “tolerance” in these contexts. When I think of the word, it means a sort of grudging, teeth-gritting exercise of breathing deep and keeping your mouth shut when something rubs you the wrong way, a sort of coping in relative silence for some greater good. I should know, as I’ve been there and sometimes go back there!

Acceptance of differences is a much more splendored next level. All things being equal, a live-and-let-live attitude is better for everyone. When I’m in that place, I can practically feel my blood pressure lowering.

However, I know that all things are not equal, which is why a pie-in-the-sky, happily ignorant form of acceptance won’t work for me. Among other things, working toward acceptance does not mean tolerating (or, heaven forbid, accepting) the intolerable or intolerant. Sometimes we must take a stand, hopefully in the most effective way possible.

Here in the U.S., we’re struggling with this in the aftermath of the presidential election. This struggle is manifesting itself in our workplaces, communities, and circles of friends and family. I have a feeling we’re in for a very bumpy ride, and the ways in which we relate to one another individually will make a big difference.

 

“How will we explain this to the children?”

Image courtesy of Clipart Kind

Image courtesy of Clipart Kid

Around the world, people are waking up to an electoral reality that for many was previously unimaginable. I can normally deal with being on the losing end of any election — it has happened, a lot — but the behaviors and qualities of the man we have just elected President fill me with despair and alarm.

On social media, I have read a number of posts and memes asking, in effect, how will we explain this to the children? In terms of long-term damage, it sends horrible messages to the children of this nation and elsewhere. In effect, we adults have proclaimed:

  • It’s okay to regularly engage in bullying, bigoted, and misogynistic behaviors;
  • It’s okay to openly brag about and encourage conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and assault;
  • It’s okay to continually issue threats of retaliation and retribution toward those who oppose or criticize you;
  • It’s okay to lie, get caught, and deny…over and over again;
  • It’s okay to hire people to work for you and repeatedly stiff them;
  • It’s okay to mimic and make fun of people with disabilities;
  • It’s okay to act perpetually aggrieved even when life has handed you every advantage.

Politics is a bloodsport, I get that. But what happened here was nothing within the realm of normal. In terms of the state of our civic life and any value we place on kindness and human dignity, America just lost a huge piece of its soul. Whether we can ever recover that piece is an open question. As we stare into the abyss that was the 2016 presidential election, we have no choice but to try, as if our lives depended on it.

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Note: I know that I will lose some readers over this post. For those who wish to praise or defend the virtues of the President-elect, there are plenty of venues with much larger readerships that will happily take your comments. I will be back to “regularly scheduled programming” promptly, but because the results of America’s presidential vote have violated so many of the values that inform my writing here, I have exercised my prerogative to make this statement.

Can America recover its dignity and find common ground after this presidential election?

A month from now, this horrible American presidential campaign will be concluded and the results should be known. Most of you aren’t surprised to know that I’ll be voting for the Democratic nominee, in large part because I dearly hope that the Republican nominee does not become our President-elect. Even if we manage to avoid that almost unthinkable result, however, I will not be cheering.

I wrote in the spring:

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.

To me this campaign represents the culmination of multiple breakdowns in our civic culture that started to brew during the latter part of the 20th century and have reached a fever pitch in the 21st. We have become unhinged and terribly polarized. We have lost our heart quality and compassion. We have lost our ability to communicate and to listen across partisan lines. A national election has become a dispiriting game show.

I carry these sentiments in light of exchanges with folks of different social, economic, and political stripes, including friends who may be voting in different ways from me on Election Day. The standard response is dismay, weariness, disgust, and/or alarm over this campaign season. However, will that understanding lead us to a better place, fueled by a commitment to jointly addressing the challenges that face us? I think it may depend on whether we can learn any lessons from this national embarrassment of the 2016 race for the White House.

Trump’s ghostwriter suspects The Donald is a sociopath

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Tony Schwartz, Donald Trump’s ghostwriter for his bestselling book, The Art of the Deal (1987), now regrets that collaboration and suspects that Trump is a sociopath.

Interviewed for a New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer, Schwartz says that he would approach this writing project differently today:

If he were writing “The Art of the Deal” today, Schwartz said, it would be a very different book with a very different title. Asked what he would call it, he answered, “The Sociopath.”

Schwartz’s regret for helping to build the Trump mythology is palpable:

“I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is. . . . I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Here are some other Schwartz quotes from Mayer’s piece:

  • “Trump only takes two positions. Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest.”
  • “…it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then…”
  • “Lying is second nature to him . . . . More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”

Most psychologically analyzed presidential candidate ever?

In a presidential campaign riddled with divisive candidates on both sides of the political aisle, Donald Trump stands as perhaps the most divisive of all time. He also may be the most psychologically analyzed, with terms such as narcissist and sociopath recurring regularly in commentaries probing his psyche.

For example, in a lengthy piece titled “The Mind of Donald Trump” published in The Atlantic, Northwestern U. psychology professor Dan P. McAdams concluded:

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.

Concededly….

My own political views play a role in my assessment of Trump. Nevertheless, I have been a political junkie for years. I know the difference between a candidate I happen not to support and one who is deeply alarming and frightening as a potential President. Fueled by what I have learned about bullying behaviors, interpersonal aggression, and psychology, I believe that Trump represents a singular threat to the well being of this nation and even the world.

I realize there are others who feel differently. To illustrate, I was stunned earlier this spring when, after posting one of my pieces about Trump’s psychological make up to a Facebook page on workplace bullying, I was angrily dressed down by a consultant who works with abrasive bosses. She said I was injecting a divisive political tone to the discussions on that page. She even suggested that Trump, rather than being a bully, might be considered a victim of bullying at the hands of the media.

I responded that, in the context of examining and understanding bullying and abuse in the workplace, no one should be exempt from scrutiny merely because of their vocation, including politics. (Indeed, if our political leaders cannot be called out on their narcissistic and sociopathic traits, then we’re in big trouble!)

Well, my modest postings here are unlikely to shift the polls or strongly influence the broader public debate about the 2016 election. Nevertheless, as we head into a week that likely will witness the coronation of Donald Trump as the presidential nominee and leader of the Republican Party, I do feel compelled to urge that among a very problematic field of major candidates this year, he is the most dangerous.

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.

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.

On being a globally oriented citizen

In my more self-deluded moments, I like to think of myself as being something of a “global citizen.” After all, I do some international travel, engage in work that has some transnational relevance, donate to global charities, and gratefully have friends in and from many different countries. Hey, I even subscribe to the Guardian Weekly and the Economist!

In reality, however, I’m yet another professor whose travel experiences, work, and network of friends have international dimensions. I’m just as likely to check on the fortunes of my fantasy baseball teams as I am to click to news stories of key developments in other parts of the world.

By contrast, I know a good number of people whom I count as genuine global citizens. Whether they travel around the world or not, they have a genuine international orientation that gives them a broader perspective on this planet we inhabit. Some, like my friends and colleagues connected with the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, devote significant energies toward furthering peace, social justice, and humanitarian initiatives around the world.

How can we become more globally oriented citizens? This question has been crossing my mind frequently during the past year, especially in the wake of terrorist attacks around the world. Many of us should embrace a broader worldview, thus contributing to a more informed citizenry as a result. Sure, we can attend to our own little corners of the planet, but let’s also look at the world beyond our immediate surroundings.

This could be as simple as paying closer attention to news developments from around the world. It may mean bringing a more inclusive spirit to our lives, one that celebrates variety and diversity and naturally builds bonds with people from other cultures. At its most challenging levels, it can involve trying to understand and address the seemingly intractable differences that are causing so much strife today. For as President Kennedy said in his compelling 1963 speech on the urgent need to curb the nuclear arms race:

And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

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