Thanksgiving Week: Writing and remembrance

Hello, dear readers, I’m enjoying my traditional U.S. Thanksgiving trip to New York City right now. The 12 years I lived in this city (1982-94) were a personally and professionally formative time for me, so I always get a bit reflective when I visit.

With this morning’s publication of a piece contemplating the notion of personal libraries (see below for link) to the blog of Harrison Middleton University, where I’m doing a side gig as a 2022 Fellow in Ideas,  I thought I’d pull together variety of more recent (2018-present) writings from other sites, heavily themed on lifelong learning, books, popular culture, and personal nostalgia. I hope you find something here that strikes your fancy.

***

Contemplations on a Personal Library (2022) (link here)

Living history: The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as experienced by U.S. Navy officer on a destroyer (2022) (link here)

Forty summers ago, a first-ever trip to NYC (2022) (link here)

Pandemic Chronicles #26: Old postcards as time travel experiences (2021) (link here)

Embracing middlebrow culture: The Book-of-the-Month Club (2021) (link here)

Pandemic Chronicles #25: Monet, London fog, and memory at the Museum of Fine Arts (2021) (link here)

Studying the Great Books at the University of Chicago (2021) (link here)

Pandemic Chronicles #20: Witnessing “The Troubles” 40 years ago (2021) (link here)

Libraries as learning hangouts (2021) (link here)

What’s behind “More Than A Song”? (2021) (link here)

Pandemic Chronicles #8: And suddenly, our worlds became very small (2020) (link here)

Pandemic Chronicles #1: “Be careful what you wish for…” (2020) (link here)

Twenty-five years in Boston…whoa! (2019) (link here)

Music as a time machine: 1979 (2019) (link here)

What is it about cold weather that draws me to bookstores? (2018) (link here)

Two memorable semester breaks (2018) (link here)

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.

On making a difference through writing

On this day of remembrance here in the U.S., I thought I’d pull together a collection of past articles related to the theme of writing, especially those forms designed to make a difference in this world — which, when you think about it, is the larger contribution of just about all good writing. And, of course, the earliest piece starts with coffee.

Using scholarship to make a difference (2020) (link here) — “When I first became a law professor, I was skeptical about the potential of legal scholarship to influence law reform. My intention was to do scholarship in sufficient volume and quality to earn tenure, and then to pursue writing and activist projects that didn’t involve lots of citations and footnotes.”

The privileges of creating a “body of work” (2019) (link here) — “Four years ago, I wrote about Pamela Slim‘s Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together (2013), which invites us to examine — in the author’s words — ‘the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created’…”

On the social responsibilities of writers (2019) (link here) — “I’d like to take a Sunday dive into the nature of writing to fuel positive individual and social change. This may be especially relevant to readers who write about fostering psychologically healthier workplaces that are free from bullying, mobbing, and abuse.”

Even Shakespeare had a writing circle (2017) (link here) — “It was an interesting exhibition, and here’s what specially caught my eye: Shakespeare was part of a writing circle — Elizabethan style!”

Author Jenna Blum: “I didn’t become a writer to not say what I believe in” (link here) — “On Saturday, Jenna was the featured speaker for a program hosted by the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, speaking on the ‘crucial role of women’s literary voices in literature in the current political climate, and the fusing of art, writing, and activism.'”

How do you take and keep notes? (2017) (link here) — “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.”

Three great authors on writing to make a difference (2015) (link here) — “For fresh, inspiring outlooks on the uses of writing and scholarship to make a difference, I often listen to voices outside of mainstream academe. Here I happily gather together three individuals, Ronald Gross, Mary Pipher, and John Ohliger, whose names I have invoked previously on this blog.”

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010, rev. 2018) (link here) — “Hilda’s desire to write novels was evident in college, but getting married, raising a family in Valparaiso, and becoming a high school English teacher would come first. However, she never let go of the idea of a writing life, and over the years she would exchange ideas, essays, and chapter drafts with friends and family members.”

Intellectual activism and social change (2013) (link here) — “For some time I’ve been studying a topic that I’ve labeled ‘intellectual activism,’ the practice of using scholarly research and writing to inform, shape, and influence social change initiatives.”

Mary Pipher on Writing to Change the World (2012) (link here) — “For all in this broad category, Mary Pipher’s Writing to Change the World (2006) is instructive and inspirational. Pipher is a bestselling author and therapist. Her book reflects upon the uses of writing to make a positive difference.”

Collegiate reflections: Working on the campus newspaper (2012) (link here) — “The Torch was the most important extracurricular experience of my college career. The topics of my articles and columns were limited largely to campus issues, but even this was heady business for me. There was something powerful and scary about writing pieces for publication with my byline appended.”

Coffee and work (2011) (link here) — “Coffee seems to be especially associated with writers. Crookes invokes J.K. Rowling, Marina Fiorato, Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen, and Malcolm Gladwell as examples of writers drawn to cafes and coffee shops to do their work.”

Historian David McCullough: He rang that bell gloriously

America lost one of its treasured storytellers several weeks ago, the renowned and beloved historian David McCullough (1933-2022). I’ve mentioned Mr. McCullough before on this blog and in my other social media writings, notably a post that praised his wonderful book, The Wright Brothers (2015).

So much has been said about this man since has passing, but I’d like to give him a bow by quoting a paragraph from his 2017 book, The American Spirit: Who Were Are and What We Stand For:

The world needs you. There is large work to be done, good work, and you can make a difference. Whatever your life work, take it seriously and enjoy it. Let’s never be the kind of people who do things lukewarmly. If you’re going to ring the bell, give the rope one hell of a pull. I wish you the fullest lives possible—full of love and bells ringing.

If it sounds like a line from a commencement-type speech, then you’re on the right path. This passage is from an address he gave at Dartmouth College in 1999. I think it’s a great sentiment for those of any age.

The thing is, David McCullough practiced what he urged these students to do with their lives. His life was rich and full and, well, “All American” in the best sense of the term. He fiercely loved this country and its many wonderful stories, and he contributed mightily toward our understanding of its history.

McCullough was not prone to regularly sharing his political views, which apparently tended toward the independent middle. He nevertheless stepped up in forming a group of prominent historians who jointly warned the nation of the dangers of a Trump presidency.

Boston was a favorite destination for his book talks, and I attended several of them. Each one was a treat. He will be deeply missed, even as his work lives on for future generations to discover and enjoy.

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Annotated recommended book list for 2022

 

This is an updated and revised annotated list of books on workplace bullying and related topics, following up on earlier lists published here in 2011 and 2018. This list now sorts recommended volumes into categories, while recognizing there is considerable overlap among them.

Here are several preliminary points before I jump into the list itself:

  • First, this list emphasizes books that are primarily about workplace bullying, mobbing, and related behaviors, as well as the organizational cultures that fuel them. It also adds books that bring important contextual understanding to this subject matter.
  • Second, I have not included several valuable books that look at bullying in specific occupational fields, such as education and health care.
  • Third, there is a strong U.S.-based focus here, with a healthy sprinkling of international perspectives. That said, important work on this subject continues to expand on a global scale, and I won’t even try to capture all of it here.
  • Fourth, with one exception (okay, a two-volume book set I co-edited!), I have emphasized single-volume works that, at least for more recent titles still in print, are relatively affordable.
  • Fifth, I have not included the many treatments of workplace incivility or bad management, or books touting best practices in management generally. While important and related to workplace bullying, I needed to cabin in the scope of this list.
  • Sixth, I have not covered the growing number of self-published titles on these topics, including first-person accounts of those who have experienced severe workplace mistreatment. These works contain useful insights and stories, but regrettably I have not been able to review them closely for this list.
  • Finally, some acknowledgements: I have been involved in this work since the late 1990s. Accordingly, I have contributed to books about workplace bullying and been discussed and cited by colleagues who have authored some of these volumes. It is impossible for me to be objective in making this selection, so for the sake of full disclosure I mark books to which I have contributed content with a double asterisk (**); and books where my work is discussed in a more focused way and/or where I provided a promotional “blurb,” with an asterisk (*), in both instances following the date of publication.

ESPECIALLY FOR WORKERS

Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (2nd ed., 2009)* — A seminal work by the individuals most responsible for introducing the concept of workplace bullying to a North American audience. It remains the most readable, accessible book for targets of workplace bullying. (Disclosure note: I have worked with the Namies and their Workplace Bullying Institute on a pro bono basis for almost two decades, and my work is discussed in this book.)

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014)* — For both a comprehensive examination of workplace mobbing and valuable guidance for individuals, employers, and other workplace stakeholders, this is the best one-volume treatment of the topic.

ESPECIALLY FOR EMPLOYERS

Gary Namie & Ruth F. Namie, The Bully-Free Workplace (2011)* — The Namies’ step-by-step program for employers that want to pro-actively address workplace bullying, drawing upon many years of research and consulting.

Teresa A. Daniel & Gary S. Metcalf, Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR, Legal, & Risk Management Professionals (2nd ed., 2016)* — A valuable “inside the fish bowl,” management perspective on preventing and responding to workplace bullying, with guidance for different levels of organizational leadership.

FOR RESEARCHERS GETTING STARTED

Stale Einarsen, Helge Hoel, Dieter Zapf & Cary L. Cooper, eds., Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice (3rd ed., 2020)** — Latest edition of the best one-volume, multidisciplinary, international collection of research and commentary on workplace bullying, with contributions from leading authorities.

Maureen Duffy & David C. Yamada, eds., Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (2018)** — A two-volume, encyclopedic, multidisciplinary examination of workplace bullying and mobbing from an American perspective, featuring the work of over two dozen contributors.

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions (2012)* — A thorough, scholarly examination of mobbing behaviors and dynamics and how to respond to them, co-authored by two leading authorities on the subject.

EARLY, FOUNDATIONAL WORKS

Andrea Adams, with Neil Crawford, Bullying at Work: How to confront and overcome it (1992) — A pioneering work by a BBC journalist whose investigations helped to launch the workplace anti-bullying movement.

Carroll M. Brodsky, The harassed worker (1976) — Perhaps the earliest book to document and analyze these behaviors, this out-of-print and hard to find volume is worthy of mention for serious researchers and scholars.

Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz & Gail Pursell Elliott, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (2002) — An early, important work built around the European conceptualization of mobbing and the vitally important research of the late Heinz Leymann.

Tim Field, Bully in Sight (1996) — One of the first works on workplace bullying by an early U.K. anti-bullying movement advocate, it remains an important commentary for serious students of this subject.

Marie-France Hirogoyen, Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity (English ed., 2004) — Important analysis of emotional abuse in private lives and in the workplace by a French psychiatrist and therapist.

Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, BullyProof Yourself At Work! (1998)* — The Namies’ pathbreaking first take on comprehending and responding to workplace bullying.

Charlotte Rayner, Helge Hoel & Cary L. Cooper, Workplace Bullying: What we know, who is to blame, and what can we do? (2002) — An early examination by three leading authorities on bullying and stress at work.

Judith Wyatt & Chauncey Hare, Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It (1997) — One of the earliest books about psychological abuse at work, this is an important piece of the literature.

ALSO HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Judith Geneva Balcerzak, Workplace Bullying: Clinical and Organizational Perspectives (2015)* — Written by a clinical social worker and published by the National Association of Social Workers, this book is helpful to anyone who wants to understand workplace bullying and is especially useful for those in the social work field.

Carlo Caponecchia & Anne Wyatt, Preventing Workplace Bullying: An Evidence-Based Guide for Managers and Employees (2011) — Brisk overview with thought-provoking case studies, and applying research and analysis to practices and responses.

Ellen Pinkos Cobb, Workplace Bullying and Harassment: New Developments in International Law (2017)* — A handy and thorough global compilation and summary of laws and regulations pertaining to workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment.

Lynne Curry, Beating the Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide to Taking Charge (2016) — Authored by a management and human resources consultant who has experienced workplace bullying, this book takes a helpful, systematic, coaching-based approach for those who are dealing with bullying at work.

Suzi Fox & Paul E. Spector, eds., Counterproductive Work Behavior: Investigations of Actors and Targets (2005) — Very useful collection of chapter contributions that includes considerable research and commentary on bullying.

Harvey Hornstein, Brutal Bosses and Their Prey: How to Identify and Overcome Abuse in the Workplace (1996) — This work by a social psychologist examines bad boss behaviors, with especially relevant research findings and commentary about abusive supervision in the midst of difficult economic times.

Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, Adult Bullying: A Nasty Piece of Work (2013) — A leading researcher on workplace bullying and related topics has gathered her journal articles, many of which are co-authored with other experts, into a single volume helpful to both scholars and those dealing with bullying at their workplaces.

Robert I. Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (2007) — While the title alone guaranteed this book a fair amount of attention, its discussion of bullying and incivility at work is noteworthy in its own right.

Noreen Tehrani, ed., Workplace Bullying: Symptoms and Solutions (2012)— A thought-provoking collection of chapter contributions from an international group of scholars and practitioners, with an emphasis on European perspectives.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PSYCHIATRIC PERSPECTIVES

Paul Babiak & Robert D. Hare, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (rev. ed., 2019) — A revised and expanded edition of this informative look at the very worst types of workplace abusers, authored by two leading experts in psychopathic behavior.

Sheila M. Keegan, The Psychology of Fear in Organizations (2015) — An insightful book by a British consultant and psychologist that links the experience of fear at work to organizational cultures, and suggests solutions for moving forward. Includes a chapter on workplace bullying.

Ronald Schouten & James Silver, Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy? (2012) — Examines the characteristics and behaviors of those who may not meet the strict clinical criteria for psychopathy, but who demonstrate associated qualities such as pathological lying and lack of empathy, including scenarios such as workplace bullying.

Robin Stern, The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life (2018 ed.) — Explores the complicated dynamics of gaslighting, with the Introduction to the 2018 acknowledging the link between gaslighting and workplace bullying.

Martha Stout, Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door (2020)* —  A followup to the author’s earlier groundbreaking work The Sociopath Next Door (2006), this accessible and gruesomely fascinating exploration about how to respond to sociopaths includes considerable discussion of work situations, including workplace bullying.

Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014) — Though not specifically about bullying, this is the most lucid, accessible, and hopeful book about psychological trauma and possibilities for successful treatment that I’ve encountered, authored by one of the pioneering experts in the field.

BROADER CONTEXTS AND FRAMES

Emily S. Bassman, Abuse in the Workplace: Management Remedies and Bottom Line Impact (1992) — Early and valuable examination of the organizational costs of emotional abuse at work.

Ellen Pinkos Cobb, Managing Psychosocial Hazards and Work-Related Stress in Today’s Work Environment: International Insights for U.S. Organizations (2022)* — Explores how employers can recognize and respond to psychosocial hazards, including workplace bullying, to prevent physical and psychological injury and stress.

Randy Hodson, Dignity at Work (2001) — Broad examination of dignity at work, including bullying behaviors, from a sociological perspective grounded in human dignity.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance — and What We Can Do About It (2018) — Examines how modern management practices, including workplace bullying, are contributing to toxic workplaces that inflict significant harms on both worker health and organizational performance.

Peter Schnall, Marnie Dobson & Ellen Rosskam, eds., Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures (2009) — Occupational health experts analyze the psychosocial aspects of work, public health impacts, and possible stakeholder responses.

Dr. Martha Stout on outsmarting sociopaths (including those at work)

Reading this on the subway gets me some odd looks

Years ago, when I began learning about psychiatric disorders that can fuel workplace bullying and abuse, I found Dr. Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door (2005) to be quite the eye-opener. She started by suggesting that if we want to understand a condition that may be present in roughly 4 percent of the population, then we should try to imagine living and acting without a conscience. She went on to explore the dynamics of sociopathy, mainly in terms of interpersonal relationships.

Her bottom line? If you find yourself around a sociopath, then try to distance yourself from them.

Dr. Stout’s latest work, Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door (2020), builds strongly on her earlier, excellent volume. She explores sociopathy in different settings, including parental (if a child exhibits sociopathic traits), workplace (as in bullying and abuse), spousal/legal (especially custody battles), and criminally assaultive contexts. She also examines how private and public institutions can engage in sociopathic behaviors.

Although Stout’s advice on avoiding sociopaths still holds, she recognizes that circumstances may make it difficult to do so and offers guidance on how to interact (and not interact) with sociopaths in specific settings. In addition, she looks at potential systemic responses to sociopathy, including legal ones.

If you want to learn about sociopathy and sociopaths, then I heartily recommend both books. But if you have time for only one, then Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door is my recommendation. It is clear that the author did a lot more digging between the publication of these books. (Among other things, Stout incorporates illustrative stories shared by readers of her first book to offer new insights.)

Sociopathy at work

I was very happy to see Dr. Stout looking deeply into our workplaces. In a chapter titled “Human Evil at Work: Sociopathic Coworkers, Bosses, and Professionals,” she dives into sociopathic behaviors on the job. This represents a major expansion of the range of her investigations and may resonate strongly with those who have experienced bullying, mobbing, and related behaviors in their jobs. It has long been my ongoing hypothesis that the worst types of bullying and abuse at work — targeted behaviors designed to drive people out of their jobs and destroy their livelihoods — are committed by folks with significant personality disorders.

I was grateful to see Dr. Stout discussing our workplace anti-bullying initiatives in her final chapter, “The Nature of Good: Compassion, Forgiveness, and Freedom.” She mentions Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie (co-founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute) and me by name and touts our work in drafting and advocating for the Healthy Workplace Bill.

In short, I highly recommend Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door to anyone who wishes to understand the nature of sociopathy, the behaviors of sociopaths, and how the rest of us can respond to these threats to our well-being. This is an important work.

Great literature may help us to understand trauma

Great literature may help us to understand psychological trauma. In a newly published essay (link here), “Ahab Rages and Odysseus Weeps: Trauma as a Core Concept for Humanistic Inquiry,” I summon Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Homer’s The Odyssey for that purpose. Drawing upon Moby-Dick, I consider the injured Captain Ahab as a workplace trauma sufferer and abusive boss. Examining The Odyssey, I see Odysseus experiencing grief and exhaustion as he tries to return home after 10 years of fighting a war.

The piece has just been posted to the blog of Harrison Middleton University, a fully online university devoted to Great Books and Great Ideas, where I am a 2022 “Fellow in Ideas.” In this side-gig role, I am contributing writings to HMU’s publications and taking part in various discussion groups.

MTW revisions (September 2021)

Dear readers, during recent months, I’ve revised and updated several popular blog entries. and I’m happy to share the links with you today:

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Recommended book list (orig. 2018, rev. 2021) (link here)

On peer support groups for those who have experienced workplace bullying and mobbing (orig. 2019, rev. 2021) (link here)

What is academic tenure? (orig. 2011, rev. 2016 and 2021) (link here

The costs of suffering in silence about bad work situations (orig. 2011, rev. 2021) (link here)

A brief history of the emergence of the U.S. workplace bullying movement (orig. 2010, rev. 2021) (link here)

“Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace,” 3rd edition

I’m late in mentioning publication of the latest edition of a work that I regard as the best one-volume, international, multi-author survey and analysis of workplace bullying: Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Theory, Research and Practice (3rd ed., 2020), edited by Ståle Valvatne Einarsen, Helge Hoel, Dieter Zapf, and Cary L. Cooper. It is published by Routledge and can easily be ordered online.

I am not an objective party in recommending the book, as I have contributed a chapter on legal protections against workplace bullying to each edition, the latest being “Bullying and the Law: Gradual Progress on a Global Scale.” That said, the overriding value of this volume is its blend of depth and breadth, with chapter contributions from internationally recognized experts in the field. 

I’m going to take the liberty of simply pasting in the entire table of contents, from the Routledge website:

Part A: The Nature of the Problem. 1. The Concept of Bullying at Work: The European Tradition. 2. By Any Other Name: American Perspective on Workplace Bullying. Part B: Empirical Evidence. 3. Empirical Findings on Bullying at Work. 4. Individual Consequences of Workplace Bullying. 5. The Organizational Cost of Workplace Bullying. 6. The Measurement of Bullying at Work. Part C: Explaining the Problem. 7. Individual Antecedents of Bullying: Victims and Perpetrators. 8. Organizational Causes of Workplace Bullying. 9. The Role of Leadership in Workplace Bullying. 10. Bullying and Conflict Resolution. 11. The Role of Discrimination in Bullying. 12. Harassment in the Digital World: Cyberbullying. 13. Cross-Cultural Issues in Workplace Bullying. Part D: Managing the Problem: Prevention and Treatment of Workplace Bullying. 14. Prevention and Treatment of Workplace Bullying: A Taxonomy and Overview. 15. An Occupational Health Perspective to the Prevention of Workplace Bullying. 16. Managing Workplace Bullying: The Role of Policies. 17. The Role of HRM in Dealing with Bullying. 18. Investigating Bullying Complaints. 19. Bullying and Individual Coping Strategies. 20. Managing Workplace Bullying: The Role of Counselling. 21. Rehabilitation and Treatment of Bullying Victims. 22. Legal Remedies Against Workplace Bullying: An Overview. 23. Strengths and Limitations of Legal Approaches to Bullying.

***

While I’m at it, for those seeking an encyclopedic review of research, analysis, and practice concerning workplace bullying and mobbing specifically in the United States, I am happy to tout the two-volume set co-edited by Maureen Duffy and me, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (2019), published by Praeger/ABC-CLIO. It includes chapters by over 20 of the leading U.S. authorities on bullying and mobbing at work, including Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, co-founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute.

***

Folks, these books are expensive, priced for practitioner/academic audiences and for library purchases. Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace lists at $130 (paperback ed.), and Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States lists at $131 (hardcover ed.). For practitioners and scholars specializing in these general subject areas, I believe they are worthy additions to one’s professional library. However, for those on tight budgets who seek authoritative, affordable introductions with a practical focus, I happily recommend:

  • Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (2d ed. 2009);
  • Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully-Free Workplace (2011); and,
  • Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014).

Captain Ahab of “Moby-Dick”: Workplace trauma sufferer, bullying boss, or both?

If you’re even remotely familiar with Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby-Dick (1851), then you may regard the Pequod‘s Captain Ahab as a mad, angry, and obsessed figure. After all, the novel is driven by Ahab’s relentless and rageful chase of the eponymous whale, seeking revenge for a grievous injury inflicted during an earlier encounter at sea. This obsession leads to Ahab’s undoing.

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to consider Moby-Dick, via a fascinating online class offered by the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, an independent school that offers non-credit courses in the humanities and social sciences. Taught by Dr. Rebecca Ariel Porte, “Moby-Dick: Reading the White Whale” was a four-week deep dive (ba dum) into this complex novel, examining it from a variety of literary and social perspectives. I had long wanted to read Moby-Dick, but previous efforts to do so on my own flamed out after a few chapters. I knew that I needed the prod of interactive class sessions to sustain my reading of the book. I am happy to report that the course was more than worth the effort, thanks to its brilliant instructor and a very smart group of fellow students.

Going into the course, I brought a hypothesis: Moby-Dick is, at least in part, a story of psychological trauma suffered by Capt. Ahab. During the course, I was stunned to read passages that, at least for me, vividly supported that hypothesis. I now submit that Herman Melville understood the guts and sinew of trauma, well before the acronym PTSD ever entered our nomenclature.

Indeed, Melville’s description of Ahab fits the profile of a trauma sufferer. Sprinkled throughout the novel, we are given these looks into Ahab’s mental state. Ahab, the narrator tells us multiple times, is a “monomaniac,” which one modern dictionary defines as “a person who is extremely interested in only one thing, often to such a degree that they are mentally ill.” In chapter 106, we learn how Ahab carries a deep sense of grievance linked back to the injury inflicted by the whale, including a subsequent mysterious “agonizing wound” that “all but pierced his groin.” In chapter 135, we are told that Ahab “never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels.”

Today, we know that Ahab’s mental state and behaviors are very consistent with psychological trauma. From Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s superb book about trauma, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014), we learn that research on brain functioning shows how trauma can shut down logical thinking capacities and hyper-activate the emotions. Those who have experienced traumatic events may relive and obsess over them.

I have seen this on many occasions with some targets of severe bullying and mobbing at work. They face enormous difficulties in getting “unstuck” from a state of rumination and anger. A few become fixated on obtaining some measure of justice, or perhaps vengeance. Like Ahab, they sometimes only feel, feel, feel.

Of course, frequent readers of this blog may also classify Ahab as a bullying boss, given the way he treats the Pequod‘s crew. That’s a fair characterization, too. One senses that the ship’s crew members are walking on eggshells around Ahab. They fear him and question his mental state.

But seen as a trauma sufferer, perhaps Ahab becomes at least a slightly more sympathetic figure. I was recently introduced to the phrase hurt people hurt people, and I think that applies here. Put simply, some abused individuals turn their pain outward and mistreat others.

Thankfully, our understanding of trauma far exceeds what we knew about it in the mid-1800s. Among other things, we now know that PTSD can be treated. Many of these treatment modalities are discussed in The Body Keeps the Score

I readily confess that my fiction reading has tended towards mysteries, tales of spies and suspense, and the occasional horror story. But reading Moby-Dick with the help of this course turned out to be a welcomed intellectual workout, one that yielded surprisingly relevant connections to my work. I also came away very impressed with how one iconic author had a remarkable 19th century understanding of trauma and its effects.

%d bloggers like this: