“Being present with intelligence, knowledge, skills, and strength, but anchored in heart”

photo-576

If you can spare an hour to listen to a remarkably far-ranging and compassionate mind at work, please click to this December 2016 lecture by Dr. Michael Britton at the annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network in New York City. The occasion is the workshop’s Don Klein Memorial Lecture, which provides the speaker with an opportunity to paint — in strokes both broad and hard — a connective, contextual, historical picture about our society and how we move forward in the quest for human dignity. Here’s Michael’s bio, and here’s how the lecture is described on its YouTube page:

Michael Britton gives the Don Klein Memorial Lecture on the morning of December 8, 2015, Day Two of the 13th Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, which took place at Columbia University in New York City, December 8 – 9, 2016. Michael Britton is concerned with integrative thinking across neuroscience, in-depth psychotherapies and historical/cultural living, Michael’s work looks at how participation in the historical life of our times and interior life are deeply intertwined.

At the outset of his talk, Michael acknowledges the “struggle between how you keep faith, love, and joy strong in the midst of . . . also feeling fear and angst about some of the things going on in our country and our world.” He goes on to recognize the challenges of “being present with intelligence, knowledge, skills, and strength, but anchored in heart.”

Michael has a unique ability to integrate individual change and social change, making connections between topics such as childhood neglect and abuse, politics and policy, the environment, and human rights. He is not a hell fire and brimstone speaker, so if you’re looking for someone shakes the rafters, you may want to look elsewhere. Rather, he is a calm, intelligent, impassioned voice who gives us reason for hope without ignoring the challenges we face.

Dear readers, in this age of short attention spans and Twitter, suggesting that you invest some 60 minutes in an old-fashioned lecture is asking a lot, I know. My suggestion? Give this lecture 15 minutes and decide whether it’s worth your time to watch the rest. I hope you’ll agree that it’s worth watching the rest.

01_all

Group photo of our workshop

Three 20th century voices inform our understanding of modern American society

 

Three important, insightful voices from the last century may help us understand the social and political state of today’s America.

In his frighteningly prescient Preface to Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (1982 ed.), social scientist Bertram Gross identified two conflicting trends in American culture:

The first is a slow and powerful drift toward greater concentration of power and wealth in a repressive Big Business-Big Government partnership. . . . The phrase “friendly fascism” helps distinguish this possible future from the patently vicious corporatism of classic fascism in the past of Germany, Italy and Japan.

…The other is a slower and less powerful tendency for individuals and groups to seek greater participation in decisions affecting themselves and others. . . . It is embodied in larger values of community, sharing, cooperation, service to others and basic morality as contrasted with crass materialism and dog-eat-dog competition.

Gross went on to identify a group of people who were consolidating power in America:

I see at present members of the Establishment or people on its fringes who, in the name of Americanism, betray the interests of most Americans by fomenting militarism, applauding rat-race individualism, protecting undeserved privilege, or stirring up nationalistic and ethnic hatreds.

In the spring I cited the rise of Donald Trump as the prime exemplar of the mainstreaming of Gross’s 1982 scenario. This dystopian reality is now before us, front and center, as Trump goes about the task of forming his new administration.

In her final book, Dark Age Ahead (2004), the late Jane Jacobs — the brilliantly iconoclastic observer of urban and contemporary life — expressed fears that we are entering a new “Dark Age” marked by a sharp decline in core societal institutions and values. Here were the key markers behind her thesis:

  • Family and community — Consumption, consumerism, debt, and wealth supplanting family and community welfare;
  • Higher education — Higher education becoming a tool for credentialing instead of a process for learning;
  • Science — Denigration of hard science, along with the elevation of economics as the primary science shaping public policy;
  • Government — Ending the notion of government for the common good, replaced by government acting on behalf of powerful interests; and,
  • Ethics — Breakdown of ethics in learned professions.

Dark Age Ahead did not receive rave reviews upon its publication. As I recall, it was greeted with a sort of polite acknowledgement of the author’s concerns, along with a nod to her reputation and overall body of work. I felt the same way, too. But it turns out that Jacobs was merely a decade ahead of her time. Her analysis is now spot on, having anticipated our current milieu with scary accuracy.

For reasons I wish were not so, I believe that the work of philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt also will be increasingly relevant toward understanding how individual behaviors impact broader concerns in today’s America. As I wrote in 2014:

…Hannah Arendt invoked the phrase “banality of evil” to describe how Adolf Eichmann served as one of Hitler’s architects of the Holocaust. Since then, the phrase has come to represent — in more generic terms — how ordinary people become easily invested in the values of a morally bankrupt status quo and participate in terrible behaviors that seemingly are unthinkable in civilized society.

Arendt’s work was deeply informed by European events during first half of the last century. In her Preface to Men in Dark Times (1968 ed.), an examination of how prominent European intellectuals, religious leaders, civic leaders, and activists responded to authoritarian threats of the era, she posited:

Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given to them on earth.

During the years to come, we’re going to need lots of “men and women, in their lives and works” (to borrow from Arendt) to shine a light on our society and to make life more humane, dignified, and inclusive. We don’t need more bystanders who submit passively to malevolent forces swirling around us, while hoping not to be among those swallowed up by them. This is a time for us to stand for something and be counted.

Renewing a commitment to bullying-free workplaces

(Drawing copyright Aaron Maeda)

(Drawing by Aaron Maeda, copyright 2016)

Here in America, it should come as no surprise that in survey data released by the American Psychological Association earlier this fall, “52 percent of American adults report[ed] that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress,” with the figures cutting fairly evenly across political lines. Many of these stressors and anxieties have continued in terms of the post-election aftermath and the evolving transition in Washington D.C.

Under such distracting (and, for some of us, distressing) circumstances, it can be hard to turn our attention back to the tasks at hand, which for many readers of this blog include preventing, stopping, and responding to bullying, mobbing, and abuse in the workplace. But that we must. As I see it, our basic agenda as we head into 2017 holds steady:

  • Engaging in public education about abusive work behaviors;
  • Educating and persuading employers and other employee relations stakeholders about the destructive effects of abusive work environments and the importance of effective prevention and response;
  • Expanding the pool of mental health providers who are competent and knowledgeable to assist targets of bullying and mobbing at work; and,
  • Enacting legal protections such as the Healthy Workplace Bill to provide targets with a legal claim for damages and to incentivize employers to take these behaviors seriously, as well as building a stronger safety net of public and private employee benefits to help those transitioning out of toxic workplaces.

And so the work goes on, fueled by a continuing recognition that building workplaces that value and practice dignity will benefit us all.

Tolerance and acceptance at work

photo-542

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.

***

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.

***

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

photo-475

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.

%d bloggers like this: