How do you take and keep notes?

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Janet uses a hardcover sketchbook for her notes.

Okay, dear readers — especially academicians, students, lifelong learners, frequent conference goers, and other “information society” folks — here’s my question: How do you take and keep notes?

This Way Out (1972), a classic early guidebook to non-traditional higher education by John Coyne and Tom Hebert, includes some marvelous chapters on lifelong learning skills and practices, pre-digital style. It says this about taking notes:

Make a decision now for life, just how you are going to keep your lecture and reading notes. We wish we had done this earlier so that we could have saved them. We’re always in situations where we take notes. Watching a TV discussion, public lectures, conversations. We have finally settled on 4-by-6 inch scratch pads, and yellow legal pads for interviews and long lectures. There must be better systems. One friend takes notes (any size), quotes and interesting miscellaneous Xeroxes, stapes them to 5-by-8 inch cards which he labels and keeps in a card file.

Of course, their note taking system is a blast from the past. The mere idea of recording notes onto paper is foreign to a lot of folks, especially in this digital age of tablets and software programs like Evernote and OneNote.

That said, I remain drawn to taking notes the old fashioned way. It is an aesthetic as well as educational preference.

For some reason, this topic has been on my mind recently. In a recent post I wrote about a fellow singing class student who keeps written notes on each voice class session. At annual board meetings and workshops of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network in New York City, I’ve taken delight in watching peace educator Janet Gerson‘s use of hardcover sketchbooks to take and preserve her notes, as well as to host her artistic forays and distractions.

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And at times she goes artistic.

Alas, unlike Janet, and ignoring the sound advice of Mssrs. Coyne & Hebert, I have not developed a uniform personal note taking system. When I have my act together, I am biased toward Moleskine notebooks. But I also use other brands of notebooks and sketchbooks, my weekly (paper) calendar, scraps of paper, and yes, my computer and tablet. (Sidebar: Even Moleskine has bowed to technology, now offering a “Smart Writing System” that integrates paper and digital writing using a “paper tablet.”)

Individual preferences aside, for purposes of learning and retention, taking notes by hand may very well be more effective than typing them into a laptop or tablet, as suggested by a study published in the research journal of the Association for Psychological Science:

Dust off those Bic ballpoints and college-ruled notebooks — research shows that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

So, this is my gentle case for taking notes like some of us learned in grade school. Here’s to heading over to your local stationery or office supply store and picking up a notebook or sketchbook, along with a nice pen that makes writing a pleasure.

A talk on advancing dignity in our workplaces

For those of you who would like to contemplate the big picture of why we need to inject the value of human dignity into our workplaces, you’re invited to watch this 40-minute talk that I gave at the 2014 annual workshop of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) in New York City. It was part of a public program on “Work That Dignifies the Lives of All People,” [Note: You may have to “rewind” the YouTube video to the beginning, as some for some weird reason, the talk sometimes starts at around the 10 minute mark!]

The talk gave me a chance to discuss many topics that I’ve raised here on this blog, such as workplace bullying, the low-wage economy, and the ravages of globalization. I then tied them together under the overall rubric of worker dignity.

Next I asked participants to consider our respective roles in promoting worker dignity. At the very least, I suggested, we can do our best to practice the Golden Rule at work, treating others as we would have them treat us. That’s not always easy, but it’s an especially good starting place.

This morning I was poking around the HumanDHS website and to my surprise found the video! I hadn’t posted it before, but I’m pleased to share it with you now. Introducing me is HumanDHS director Linda Hartling. As I mentioned in my last post, I just finished participating in this year’s HumanDHS workshop, and it once again was a tremendously rewarding experience.

Workplace bullying vs. “political correctness”

(Image courtesy of Clipart Panda)

(Image courtesy of Clipart Panda)

The other day I had an exchange with a fellow law professor who expressed great skepticism about the need for legal protections against severe workplace bullying, adding that he equated the topic with what he perceives to be an excess of political correctness in our civic dialogue. It became clear as our exchange went on that nothing I could say would sway him.

Based on his remarks to me, I think he also was coming from a place of exasperation toward current, hotly contested debates on college campuses on the need for “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” terms explained by Sophie Downes in the New York Times:

A trigger warning is pretty simple: It consists of a professor’s saying in class, “The reading for this week includes a graphic description of sexual assault,” or a note on a syllabus that reads, “This course deals with sensitive material that may be difficult for some students.”

A safe space is an area on campus where students — especially but not limited to those who have endured trauma or feel marginalized — can feel comfortable talking about their experiences. This might be the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs or it could be Hillel House, but in essence, it’s a place for support and community.

For what it’s worth, I’d rather have the values of respect, empathy, and intellectual rigor trying to co-exist among themselves than have either strict rules on freedom of expression or an embrace of free speech that serves as a pretext for hurtful verbal attacks on others. (The Golden Rule is a good start for me.)

But I’m not here to dive too deeply into that debate. Rather, I’m here to repeat a clarification:

Workplace bullying is not about political correctness, trigger warnings, oversensitive people, regulating speech, or mandating manners. Rather, it is about targeted, typically repeated, health-harming verbal and non-verbal abuse, often perpetrated to undermine someone’s job performance or even drive them out of the workplace.

And all too often, when targets of workplace bullying approach lawyers to see whether the legal system offers any relief from the torment, they are told sorry, as bad as this is, there are no obvious legal protections to help you.

The academic debates over political correctness and related topics are important, but we’re not even in that territory when it comes to genuine workplace bullying. Not even close.

Writing from the heartland

Wesemann Hall, home of the VU School of Law

Wesemann Hall, main home of the VU School of Law

Hello dear readers, I’m currently spending a fall semester research sabbatical working on an exciting book project on workplace bullying and mobbing. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Dr. Maureen Duffy, one of the leading authorities on mobbing behaviors, invited me to join her as co-editor on a two-volume book set that will feature a comprehensive, multidisciplinary collection of chapters by leading and emerging U.S. experts on bullying and mobbing at work, with a focus on American employment relations. Writing for and co-editing this book set are the main focal points of my fall work.

To spur my productivity, for a few weeks I’ve decamped from Boston to Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, my undergraduate alma mater. I’m a Visiting Scholar in Residence at VU’s School of Law, and the good folks there have given me an office in the law library to work in and an invitation to give a talk about my work to the law faculty and other members of the law school community.

This kind of temporary relocation may strike non-academicians (i.e., many readers of this blog) as odd. Why spend time, money, and effort on going out of town simply to work in another library?, a sensible person might ask. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t make sense. But the writing process doesn’t make sense, either. It can be very helpful to remove yourself from your immediate surroundings, with fewer of the usual distractions. This is not to say that I have turned into a writing machine. But even during my first few days here, I’ve already been more productive than I would’ve been at home.

This also marks the 35th anniversary of my graduation from VU’s College of Arts and Sciences, with a (then) shiny new bachelor’s degree. Fall homecoming festivities were held over the weekend, and for me they included receiving an Alumni Achievement Award from the university’s alumni association, in recognition for some of the work discussed periodically on this blog. At a luncheon following the awards ceremony, I was joined by some of my closest friends from college. It made for a deeply memorable weekend.

And so now I’m back to work, hopefully further justifying that lovely award — and with fewer procrastinatory tendencies than those that marked my collegiate years!

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Revised posts on workplace bullying and related topics

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Dear readers, I’ve been quietly revising and updating several popular posts on workplace bullying and related topics, centering my attention on pieces originally published five or more years ago. I hope you find them interesting and/or useful!

Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector  (original: January 2011; revision: August 2016) — “The non-profit sector is all about helping people, making a difference, and righting wrongs, correct? So how can such devastating behavior be commonplace in the philanthropic world? Here are some possible circumstances that plant the seeds, in no particular order….”

Is emotional detachment an antidote for a nasty workplace? (original: August 2010; revision: July 2016) — “Emotional detachment does not come without its costs, as anyone who understands workplace bullying can comprehend. . . . In sum, emotional detachment may be an effective coping mechanism for a hostile work setting, but for many it is a sad response to a bad situation, nothing more.”

Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven? (original: February 2009; revision: April 2014) — “Because this kind of mental facility often is at the heart of both perpetrating and defending bullying, academe becomes a natural petri dish for such behaviors, especially the covert varieties. After all, so many decisions in the academy are based upon very subjective judgments.”

Is closure possible for targets of workplace bullying and injustice? (original: September 2011; revision: June 2016) — “Targets of workplace bullying or mobbing often hear some variation on the phrase you really need to get over this. I suppose there’s some truth in this. No decent human being wants to see another stuck in a place of stress, fear, anger, and trauma. But prodding someone with those words, however well meaning, is rarely helpful — especially absent more concretely useful assistance.”

Bullied at work? Avoid making these common mistakes (original: December 2010; revision: June 2016) — “Oftentimes I am asked by reporters for standard-brand advice on how to handle a potential workplace bullying situation. I inevitably respond that because these scenarios have so many variables, it would be unwise of me to suggest a one-size-fits-all set of recommendations. However, I feel much more comfortable identifying common mistakes that people make in dealing with bullying at work. Here is my list, based on many years of working in this realm….”

After being bullied at work, what next? (original: August 2009; revision: June 2016) — “One of the realities of workplace bullying is that employers are often reluctant to intervene on behalf of the target. Some will even side with the aggressor. We also know that targets frequently leave their jobs to avoid further torment. All of this boils down to the fact that targets must often consider their options on their own. For those who are in such a position, here are several questions to ask….”

 

“Erasure” and organizations: Updating Orwell

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Parul Sehgal, in a piece for the New York Times Magazine earlier this year, examines how practices of “erasure” operate to ignore or marginalize people or groups:

‘‘Erasure’’ refers to the practice of collective indifference that renders certain people and groups invisible. The word migrated out of the academy, where it alluded to the tendency of ideologies to dismiss inconvenient facts, and is increasingly used to describe how inconvenient people are dismissed, their history, pain and achievements blotted out. Compared with words like ‘‘diversity’’ and ‘‘representation,’’ with their glib corporate gloss, ‘‘erasure’’ is a blunt word for a blunt process. It goes beyond simplistic discussions of quotas to ask: Whose stories are taught and told? Whose suffering is recognized? Whose dead are mourned?

Although Sehgal’s piece addresses erasure primarily in the context of diversity and difference, it has broader applications to any individuals or cohorts who find themselves marginalized or forgotten. In this way, it relates strongly to the Orwellian concept of “unpersons,” i.e., those whose existences have been expunged from institutional memory and records.

Of course, there are differences between individuals and groups being rendered invisible when they are present in a place or time, versus being extinguished from institutional memory. The former is often more of a felt, immediate, in-your-face insult and injury. The latter can be, too, but perhaps less so after a point of separation. The common bond between erasure and the creating of unpersons is that they are potential manifestations of the eliminationist instinct, that facile ability to regard other human beings as objects to be tormented, excised, or forgotten.

Published: “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law”

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I’m pleased to report that the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice has published my law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law.” It’s probably the closest thing to an academic autobiography that I’ll ever write, in that it recounts experiences and draws lessons from the work I’ve been doing during the past fifteen years, including workplace bullying, unpaid internships, and workplace dignity in general.

Here’s the posted abstract from my Social Science Research Network (SSRN) page:

Intellectual activism is both a philosophy and a practice for engaging in scholarship relevant to real-world problems and challenges, putting its prescriptions into action, and learning from the process and results of implementation. In the legal context, intellectual activism involves conducting and publishing original research and analysis and then applying that work to the tasks of reforming and improving the law, legal systems, and the legal profession. This article explores the concept and practice of intellectual activism for the benefit of interested law professors, lawyers, and law students.

This is a very personal piece, grounded in extensive scholarly, public education, and advocacy work that I have done in two areas: (1) fostering the enactment of workplace anti-bullying legislation and building public awareness of the phenomenon of bullying at work; and (2) participating in an emerging legal and social movement to challenge the widespread, exploitative practice of unpaid internships. It also discusses my involvement in multidisciplinary networks and institutions that have nurtured my work, examines the relevant use of social media, and provides examples of how law students can function as intellectual activists. This article closes with an Appendix containing a short annotated bibliography of books that are broadly relevant to the topics discussed in the text.

I wrote the article for those who want to use research and analysis to inform and inspire positive social change work, with a special nod to those who work largely outside of the realm of highly elite educational and public policy institutions.

You may obtain a freely downloadable pdf copy of the article from my SSRN page.

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