Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, 2019: Dr. Gary Namie in Greater Boston

As I wrote back in June, we’re observing Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2019 here in Greater Boston with a visit from Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute and one of the world’s leading authorities on workplace bullying. Gary will be in town for two events:

“A Conversation with Dr. Gary Namie,” Friday, October 18, 4:00-6:00 pm, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA — Join us to discuss the past, present, and future of the U.S. workplace anti-bullying movement with one of its originators. This event is free of charge, but because space is limited, please RSVP to my staff assistant, Trish McLaughlin, at tmclaughlin@suffolk.edu. Beverages and snacks will be provided. The event will be held at Suffolk University Law School’s Sargent Hall, 120 Tremont Street, 4th floor faculty dining room, in downtown Boston.

Workplace Bullying University — Labor Union Edition,” Saturday, October 19 through Sunday, October 20, NAGE/SEIU Headquarters, Quincy, MA — Gary will be facilitating a special edition of his world-class training and education seminar, specially for labor union shop stewards and representatives, business agents, officers, and activists. Workplace Bullying University is an intensive, immersive, and interactive program that examines the dynamics of workplace bullying and what can be done to prevent and respond to it. The program’s host, NAGE/SEIU, has provided invaluable support and assistance in advocacy efforts to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts. Their union headquarters is right outside of Boston. Go here for full information about registration.

I have participated in past Workplace Bullying University programs and can attest to the rich content and enlightening discussions that are core experiences of this seminar. If you want your union to be at the forefront of addressing issues with workplace bullying, abusive supervision, and the like, then I cannot imagine a better program to provide that foundation of understanding and knowledge.

On living an “undivided life”

Parker J. Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life may have been published originally back in 2004, but it seems to have a special significance for today’s world.

Palmer suggests that many folks are living a “divided life” that can manifest in several ways:

  • “We refuse to invest ourselves in our work, diminishing its quality and distancing ourselves from those it is meant to serve”;
  • “We make our living at jobs that violate our basic values, even when survival does not absolutely demand it”;
  • “We remain in settings or relationships that steadily kill off our spirits”;
  • “We harbor secrets to achieve personal gain at the expense of other people”;
  • “We hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change”; and,
  • “We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked”

Palmer says that we’re living in a “wounded world,” and it sure feels that way at times. (U.S. readers who wake up each morning to news of the latest mass shootings may specially agree.) Much of his book examines how to do inner work in response to these outer realities.

If this sounds interesting to you, then I recommend the paperback edition that includes a very detailed reader’s guide and a DVD with interviews of Palmer.

Authenticity

The themes contained in A Hidden Wholeness also resonate with the notion of personal authenticity, which I have commented on in previous entries. The professions, especially, can foster an emphasis on posturing as opposed to authenticity. As I wrote back in 2014:

What do I mean by posturing? In the context of meetings and conferences, posturing is the practice of saying “learned” things or raising “clever” questions primarily to make an impression, rather than to enrich a discussion. The two fields I am most familiar with, academe and law, are positively rife with posturing.

I’ve also suggested that inauthenticity at work can plant the seeds for an early midlife crisis. From 2013:

As a law student, lawyer, and law professor, I’ve spent a lot of time around people whose career ambitions are largely defined by others. To some extent, I have internalized some of those messages myself.

But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to pick and choose wisely among these markers of achievement. If you fail to do so, you may find yourself living an inauthentic life (at least the part spent at work), and your psyche may struggle with the grudging realization that you’re pursuing someone else’s definition of success. It’s an easy recipe for a midlife crisis.

In sum, it’s hard to be true to one’s self by living an inauthentic and divided life. Here’s to more wholeness for all of us.

MTW Newsstand: August 2019

Every month, the “MTW Newsstand” brings you a curated selection of articles relevant to work, workers, and workplaces. Whenever possible, the materials are freely accessible. Here are this month’s offerings:

Zakiyah Ebrahim, “Office horror stories: Workers tell of trauma at the hands of office psychopaths and bullies,” Health24 (2019) (link here) — “Earlier this month, Health24 ran a story on several types of psychopaths you might find in the workplace, and reached out to victims of workplace bullying. They told us about how the thought of work filled them with dread. They were cornered for every little mistake, and the anguish and pain of being bullied was sometimes so severe that often throwing in the towel often seemed to be the only way out. Here are their stories….”

Bartleby, “Employee happiness and business success are linked,” The Economist (2019) (link here) — “Rather like the judge’s famous dictum about obscenity, a well-run company may be hard to define but we can recognise it when we see it. Workers will be well informed about a company’s plans and consulted about the roles they will play. Staff will feel able to raise problems with managers without fearing for their jobs. Bullying and sexual harassment will not be permitted. Employees may work hard, but they will be allowed sufficient time to recuperate, and enjoy time with their families. In short, staff will be treated as people, not as mere accounting units.”

“How to Curb Workplace Incivility,” Knowledge@Wharton (2019) (link here) — “Companies expect every employee to behave respectfully in the workplace, but that doesn’t always happen. A lack of professionalism can imperil an employee’s future, isolate co-workers, upset customers and infect the wider corporate culture. Workplace incivility in health care can be especially harmful because mistakes made by distressed employees can have grave consequences. The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has launched a Campaign for Professionalism to mitigate such conflicts.”

Noah Smith, “America’s Workers Need a Labor Union Comeback,” Bloomberg (2019) (link here) — “Unions are probably a big part of the reason that people look back so fondly on the era of manufacturing. So far, the service-sector jobs that now employ a large majority of the American workforce have failed to unionize like manufacturing workers once did. A recent spate of strikes shows that this vast low-paid service class may finally be awakening to the possibility of collective bargaining….”

Jennifer Moss, “When Passion Leads to Burnout,” Harvard Business Review (2019) (link here) — “At the end of the day, everyone wants to go home to our personal lives feeling inspired and fueled by a day of passionate engagement in purposeful work. This is clearly preferable to monotony and boredom, which can also cause burnout. But we have to be careful: When it feels like your passion for work — or that of your employees —has become all-consuming, it might be time to take — or to offer — a break.”

Chrystle Fiedler, “How Being Kind Makes You Healthier,” Next Avenue (2019) (link here) — “When you are kind to another person, even in a small way, it has a positive effect by helping that person feel valued and supported. If you make such acts of kindness a regular habit, it’s actually good for your health and even slows your body’s aging process, according to research.”

Skip the time travel: How would you advise a close friend?

Oliver Burkeman devotes one of his Guardian columns (link here) to the logically futile but frequently posed question of what advice would you give to your younger self, in terms of major life insights and decisions:

You only acquired the wisdom on which your advice is based by making the mistakes you’re now advising your former self to avoid. . . . Experience, as the saying goes, is a harsh teacher: it makes you sit the test first and only gives you the lesson afterwards.

This may only lead to regret and, perhaps, deeper self-berating.

The better approach, he suggests, is to “abandon all this time-travel business . . . and go straight to the real question: how would you advise a beloved friend?” Burkeman writes:

Because the crucial issue, after all, isn’t what you might have done differently in the past, had you been someone that you couldn’t have been back then. It’s what you’d do now, if you treated yourself with half the kindness and goodwill you unhesitatingly extend to your favourite relatives or friends. For many people, I know, this can be a major challenge. But unlike changing the past, it has the enormous advantage of not being impossible.

Indeed. To borrow a line from one of Sinatra’s standards, “regrets, I’ve had a few.” But the reality is that time-travel do-overs are impossible, unless I’ve missed a major development in applied physics. Or, to stay on a musical note, as my voice teacher Jane is fond of saying, if you sing a wrong note, there’s nothing you can do about it, so move on without beating yourself up about it.

Yes, we can learn from the past, but it’s only useful to us if we apply the lessons to our present and future, with a healthy dose of self-compassion to go along with it.

MTW Revisions: August 2019

In this regular feature, each month I’m reviewing some of the 1,700+ entries to this blog since 2008 and opting to revise and update several of them. I hope that readers find the revised posts useful and interesting. Here are this month’s selections:

HR, workplace bullying, and the abandoned target (orig. 2013; rev. 2019) (link here) — “For me this was the latest example of a bullying target who was looking for a lifeline, but instead was tossed under the bus, with HR supporting their demise.”

What separates the “best” workplace abusers from the rest? (orig. 2015; rev. 2019) (link here) — “Indeed, I’m simply making connections grounded in years of immersion in this realm: Among those who bully and abuse others at work, the expert planners often rank in the vanguard.”

On creating organizational cultures: What if your boss simply doesn’t care? (orig. 2013; rev. 2019) (link here) — “Regardless of how they got there, bosses who practice benign neglect when it comes to organizational culture create a giant void for others to fill.”

Witnessing the “split-screen American nightmare” (orig. 2013; rev. 2019) (link here) — “By the time I left Indiana for the New York City in 1982, the region’s steel industry was gasping for its life. As we fast forward to today, Hammond and many surrounding towns and cities continue to exist in the aftermath of the deterioration of the region’s industrial economic base.”

When a workplace bully gets his comeuppance, should we be gleeful?

A month ago, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg took particular satisfaction over president Donald Trump humiliating his national security advisor, John Bolton, in the midst of diplomatic negotiations over nuclear arms (link here). She didn’t pull any punches:

Say this for Donald Trump. He may be transforming American politics into a kleptocratic fascist reality show and turning our once-great country into a global laughingstock, but at least he’s humiliating John Bolton in the process.

Why the glee over Bolton being savagely undermined by his boss? It may be the spectacle of witnessing one bully being outdone by another. You see, John Bolton is a longtime presence on the American diplomatic scene — with apologies for using the terms “Bolton” and “diplomatic” in the same sentence. I first heard about Bolton during George W. Bush’s administration, when he was appointed the U.N. Ambassador. His Senate confirmation hearings for the position were replete with stories about his raging temper and bullying tactics.

In fact, I referenced Bolton’s record of workplace bullying in an online piece published in 2005:

Allegations of intimidating and angry treatment of co-workers lodged against John Bolton, the Bush Administration’s newly-appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, have put a spotlight on the problem of workplace bullying. While Bolton has not quite done for bullying what Clarence Thomas and his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings did for raising awareness of sexual harassment, it is clear that this story struck a responsive chord with many workers who have experienced abusive treatment at the hands of bosses and co-workers.

…In recent months, many of these behaviors have been attributed to Bolton by current and former State Department co-workers and contractors. Ex-State Department intelligence chief Carl Ford, a Republican appointee, called Bolton a “serial abuser” of subordinates, adding that he showed a talent for stroking superiors while kicking down underlings.

The most publicized allegations came from Melody Townsel, a woman who worked with Bolton in Moscow under a government contract in 1994. Townsel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton chased her down the halls of a Moscow hotel, threw a tape dispenser at her, made disparaging remarks about her appearance, left threatening letters under her hotel door, and pounded on her door and yelled at her.

Bolton is said to have pursued the removal of two intelligence analysts simply for disagreeing with him. He sought to have them fired, claiming that their work had deteriorated. Internal agency reviews of the analysts’ work found no merit to the claims. Other reports indicate that Bolton has a talent for shouting down diplomats from other nations and throwing last-minute monkey wrenches into delicate treaty negotiations.

Should we celebrate a bully’s comeuppance?

I’m not about to wag a finger at someone who takes delight in a bully’s downfall, especially if said bully was a personal tormenter. In fact, in writing this piece, I recalled once sounding a war whoop of delight upon hearing that karma had come around to bite someone who was responsible for bad things happening to people at work. I’m neither proud of, nor apologetic for, that emotional response.

I have no hard and fast rules for when the celebration becomes excessive. That said, I hope we can all summon our better natures in not letting such responses go too far. Public humiliation, in particular, has a way of becoming cyclical, leading to more of the same. This may include, among other things, unintended and negative consequences of bullying bullies.

A short speech in Rome


Judge Pauline Spencer of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence board of trustees introduced me and presented the award

Hello dear readers, during the next week I’ll be at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health in Rome, sponsored by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health. At the conference’s opening ceremonies on Sunday, I received the Bruce Winick Award for contributions to the field of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ). I was invited to make a short acceptance speech, and I share it with you below.

A bit of background: In 1987, Bruce joined fellow law professor David Wexler to establish the interdisciplinary field of therapeutic jurisprudence, which examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws, legal systems, and legal institutions. Sadly, Bruce passed away in 2010. But his memory and important writings, plus the ongoing, energetic presence of David Wexler, continue to inspire us. I’ve written about TJ often on this blog, including how it has become a theoretical and philosophical home base for my work on workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse. In fact, I’ll be talking about this work at a panel discussion later this week.

This conference has served as a sort of global meet-up for the TJ community. In fact, at the 2017 International Congress in Prague, we launched the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence. (Dues are $25 USD for the calendar year; students may join for free!) I’m now concluding my term as the group’s board chair.

Anyway, here’s the speech, in slightly edited form:

***

Bruce Winick Award — Acceptance Remarks — International Congress on Law and Mental Health

David Yamada

July 21, 2019

Ciao a tutti, hi everyone. I want to express my deep gratitude to the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, and to my colleagues in the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, for nominating and selecting me for this award.

This distinction is especially meaningful because of its namesake, our late friend, Bruce Winick. Bruce co-founded, with David Wexler (another of one of my heroes), the field of therapeutic jurisprudence. But equally important, he was a good soul and a person of exceptional character. I knew Bruce only during the last two years of his life, but throughout that time, he, David, and others, welcomed me with open arms into the TJ community.

In fact, it was around a decade ago that I found myself drawn to TJ, as a mid-career professor. It had finally dawned on me that so much of my work on the legal aspects of workplace bullying and mobbing continually raised questions of psychology and mental health. The 2009 International Congress at New York University, especially, helped me to foster ties with the TJ community and led to friendships that I now regard as lifelong.

As many of you know, Bruce lost his eyesight during his later years. In fact, I recall Bruce at that 2009 NYU conference, sitting in one of the classrooms where sessions were held, often reaching down to affectionately pet Bruno, his loyal friend and service dog.

These warm impressions say a lot about this International Congress on Law and Mental Health. Every time I’m here, the compelling topics and speakers manage to compete mightily with the attractions of the great host cities. Every time I’m here, I make and renew connections with good people. I strongly endorse the adult education and community-building potential of great conferences, and this one stands among the very best.

This 2019 gathering strikes me as having a special significance. Around the world — including in my country — we see authoritarian forces undermining the rule of law and rejecting the values of inclusion, empathy, and compassion. As we scroll through the news headlines on our various devices each day, we may feel like we’re struggling for solutions to these existential threats.

Well, I gently submit that at least some of the answers we seek are in the work that brings us together this week. After all, we know that human dignity and psychological well being are cornerstones of a decent society. We know that psychology, mental health, and other disciplines can shape law and policy to create a better world. We know that kindness and understanding, paired with research and analysis, can be powerful forces for good.

So may I close with a modest suggestion that we use this week to recharge our intellectual batteries, gain new insights and inspirations, and nurture connections with friends and colleagues? And while we’re at it, let’s enjoy some good food and drink, and lots of great sightseeing . . . because after all, we also know that we are in Rome. Grazie, thank you.

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