The power of perseverance

A pair of major U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week has reminded us of the power of perseverance in striving to achieve positive social change. Yesterday, the Court upheld provisions of the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare) that provide tax subsidies for those with low and middle incomes to purchase health insurance. And today the Court held that same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry.

Both comprehensive health care coverage and marriage equality are worthy of a humane, inclusive society, so I am very pleased by the Supreme Court’s rulings. Moreover, the Court decisions remind us that significant social change and legal reform are often the product of sustained, dedicated perseverance. Calls for health care reform trace their origins deep into the last century. Organized support for marriage equality goes back well over a decade.

Those who have found this blog because of their interest in preventing and stopping workplace bullying understand well the challenges of creating transformative change. On the legal front, I circulated the first version of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill some 12 years ago. As I wrote last month, we are now starting to see measurable progress:

Not too long ago, any reference to workplace bullying laws in the U.S. was purely aspirational. During the past three years, however, several states and municipalities have enacted workplace bullying laws that, while falling short of providing comprehensive protection to targets of these behaviors, signal America’s growing commitment to using the legal system to prevent and respond to abusive work environments.

Since 2003, some 30 American states and territories have considered some form of workplace bullying legislation, a variation of the Healthy Workplace Bill . . . .

As the full versions of the Healthy Workplace Bill continue to gain support in state legislatures, several jurisdictions have enacted some form of workplace bullying legislation.

Achieving positive change in the face of headwinds and hedgerows requires, above all, a determination to push forward without fanfare. Dilettantes and others who expect quick results soon learn, to their dismay, that the role of change agent is one more similar to that of a workhorse than a show horse. It’s about committing one’s self to the long haul.

Mainstreaming psychological well-being in the law: TJ’s challenge

Screenshot from https://mainstreamtj.wordpress.com (Photo: DY)

Screenshot from https://mainstreamtj.wordpress.com (Photo: DY)

What if our laws and legal systems focused on creating psychologically healthy outcomes for parties involved in legal matters and for society as a whole? What if considerations of economics (leaning right) and rights (leaning left) in creating law and policy were screened through the lens of psychological well-being of people affected by those laws and policies?

Long-time readers may recognize that I have aligned myself with therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”),  a school of legal thought that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law, legal practice, and legal education. In essence, TJ asks if our laws and legal systems lead to psychologically healthy results, and it implicitly favors initiatives designed to make them so.

I discovered the TJ community as a result of my work on workplace bullying and employment law & policy, and I have found it to be a welcoming and natural home for my legal scholarship and public education work.

Now I have taken this affiliation a step further by joining the Advisory Group of the International Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream Project, which “seeks to promote the use of Therapeutic Jurisprudence…approaches in mainstream legal settings through a variety of activities,” including a blog (photo above) and:

  • Linking the latest research and resources with the people who are doing this work “on the ground” in courts and tribunals – judges, lawyers, prosecutors, managers, staff and court support workers.
  • Encouraging and sharing TJ scholarship among academic and students in law and other disciplines.
  • Linking people with expertise in this area with others who want to explore how TJ can make their courts and tribunals more effective.

The Project is the brainchild of TJ co-founder and law professor David Wexler (Puerto Rico), Australian magistrate judge Pauline Spencer (Victoria), and law professor and retired judge Michael Jones (Arizona).

The Project’s Advisory Group (list and bios here) is drawn from 18 countries and “includes judges, lawyers and prosecutors, academics and students in the field of law and other fields such as psychology.”

TJ’s challenge

How do we make the promotion of psychologically healthy outcomes a prime objective for our laws and legal systems?

In a field so dominated by considerations of logic, reasoning, economics, rights, and procedure, psychology and human emotion are often regarded with some discomfort for their lack of precision and, well, messiness.

And yet, it makes perfect sense to me that the psychological well-being of individuals and society as a whole should be a primary lens through which we view and develop the law and its institutions. This is far from being the dominant viewpoint among lawyers, judges, and policy makers, but that reality only makes it more important for us to gather together (often virtually) to promote the mainstreaming of TJ.

This is among the many reasons why I am delighted to be more closely affiliated with this global assemblage of lawyers, professors, judges, and students. They inspire me with their dedication to the hard work of making the world a better place.

*** 

Of possible interest

I’ve written two law review articles expressly built around ideas of therapeutic jurisprudence. They can be freely accessed here:

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship (University of Memphis Law Review, 2010).

Employment Law as if People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace (Florida Coastal Law Review, 2010).

“When did people become disposable?”

A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed a long conversation over lunch with John-Robert Curtin, an educator, conflict resolution specialist, and media executive who is dedicated to fostering better workplaces. During the course of our conversation, J-R (as he likes to be called) repeated a question that has stuck with me, because it transcends so many societal settings, ranging from the workplace to international relations: When did people become disposable?

In the employment realm, disposability continues to manifest itself in so many ways, especially during this era of the economic meltdown, the effects of which continue to haunt average folks despite the performance of the stock market. Whether we’re talking large-scale layoffs while CEOs collect year-end bonuses, workers bullied or mobbed out of their jobs by co-workers, or horrific working conditions for those toiling in developing countries, this dynamic is very much a part of our modern systems of employment relations.

How can we reverse the moral, ethical, and psychological forces that allow us to treat people like this, denying their dignity and depriving them of good, safe jobs? Among many other things, we need to expand this conversation and our realm of influence to help make it so. This is why I am pleased to be a Fellow with the International Center for Compassionate Organizations, having accepted an invitation from Center co-founders Ari Cowan (Executive Director), Tony Belak (Associate Director), and J-R (Governing Committee member) to serve in this advisory capacity. The Center describes its mission this way:

The International Center for Compassionate Organizations is a nonprofit organization registered in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, USA. The International Center focusses on fostering cultures of compassion in government, business, healthcare systems, service agencies, colleges and universities, schools, faith groups, and other organizations worldwide. The Center responds to the emerging trend among a broad range of organizations seeking to incorporate compassion as a value and practice in their relationships with their staff, colleagues, board members, customers, and communities. The Center develops practical research, resources, education, consulting, coaching, and conferences. It takes a nonpolitical, evidence-based, and public health approach, and assists organizations to effectively improve employee engagement, productivity, staff retention, profitability, and customer satisfaction.

Later this year, J-R and I will be presenting on a panel on coaching as an intervention strategy for workplace bullying (with Ivonne Moreno-Velazquez and Jessi Eden Brown) at the biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. This year’s conference will be held on May 6-9 in Atlanta.

Work in progress: A quick look ahead to 2015

I'm not a big holiday decorator -- here's is this year's "tree"

OK, so I’m not a big holiday decorator

Thank you…

…for your continued readership! I look forward to a seventh year of writing blog posts and publishing your comments. For better and for worse, the world of work gives us plenty to talk about. And so it will be in 2015.

When I started this blog in December 2008, I didn’t fully appreciate how it could become such an engaging way to share information, ideas, and opinions. But now, with 1,000+ subscribers, some 580,000+ page views, and several thousand posted comments, I’m grateful that Minding the Workplace can contribute to our conversation on work, workers, and workplaces.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do in order to create and grow workplaces that embrace worker dignity. Here’s to a New Year of progress on those fronts.

******

Forward on the Healthy Workplace Bill

With the 2015-16 state legislative sessions approaching, our advocates are preparing to resubmit and support the Healthy Workplace Bill in states across the nation. With two states, California and Tennessee, enacting workplace bullying legislation this year (albeit in very watered-down form), and other cities and municipalities approving workplace anti-bullying ordinances for public workers that draw language from our legislation, we’re steadily moving toward the day when more workers will have legal protections against this form of mistreatment. It is proving to be a hard slog at times, with opposition arising as our efforts gain support, but we continue to make progress.

 ******

New side gig

During 2015, I’ll be launching a part-time “side gig” initiative that offers coaching, consulting, and programming on workplace bullying, career transitions, and fostering dignity at work, as well as assorted publications covering the same. I’ll also be developing more free content and referral information for those in search of guidance and resources. I’m excited about putting some structure around activities that I’ve provided informally for many years. I’ll be rolling this out gradually, as time and energy permit. These services and materials will be offered on a separate website, with details to come!

At the same time, I’ll be keeping my day (and often evening) job as a law professor, and as a scholar and advocate I’ll remain steadfastly committed to advancing worker dignity. And as I indicated above, I’ll be adding lots of posts to this blog during the year to come and beyond!

On being a change agent: The role of “Edgewalker”

edgewalkers

In her 2006 book, Edgewalkers: People and Organizations That Take Risks, Build Bridges, and Break New Ground, author Judi Neal writes that the “Edgewalker is someone who walks between the worlds,” an individual who builds bridges, works at the boundaries and soft edges, and operates in a visionary way. Neal draws heavily from diverse cultural and spiritual traditions in defining this role.

I discovered this book a few months ago, and I find that the concept of Edgewalker describes many of the change agents I find myself drawn to in my own work. A multitude of the folks who are at the heart of several communities near and dear to me — including the Therapeutic Jurisprudence network, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, and workplace anti-bullying movement — would fit comfortably into the Edgewalker framework.

I also realize that I have been unconsciously trying to define an Edgewalker-like identity for myself. The term “silo” is now one of the most overused in organizational life, but it captures the kind of insularity that inhibits creativity and frustrates the search for solutions. An Edgewalker strikes me as being a silo buster, and I like that. Whether it involves transcending professional and academic disciplines, melding the roles of scholar and practitioner, or integrating different strands of traditional and non-traditional higher and adult education, I find that this role resonates with me.

Neal also recognizes that the Edgewalker role can be a lonely one at times. After all, if so many people are crowded into more traditionally defined groups, then being an Edgewalker can mean walking alone, or at least it may feel that way. The solution, I’m finding, is to seek out and connect with other Edgewalker-type people. What can be more exciting than to foster communities of bridge-building visionaries?

 

Workshopping human dignity

Day 1 participants, HumanDHS workshop, Dec. 2014 (Photo: Anna Strout)

HumanDHS workshop, December 2014 (Photo: Anna Strout)

It’s not often that one can attend an academic/professional gathering that includes separate sessions on improvisational expression and the distinctions between shame and humiliation, but that’s one of the compelling qualities about the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, held in December by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) network and hosted by Columbia University in New York City.

HumanDHS, as I’ve written before, is an international assemblage of educators, practitioners, activists, and students devoted to advancing human dignity. I’ve been devoting this week’s posts to the workshop held last Thursday and Friday. I’ve become a regular participant, and for various reasons, this year’s offerings really struck a chord with me.

Open “dignilogues”

Among the highlights for me were the open “dignilogues,” participant-driven breakout sessions on topics generated by the group. The two I participated in could not have been more different, and both were immensely rewarding.

On Thursday I joined a session on improvisation, led by music educator and performing artist Christine de Michele. I must admit that I wasn’t quite sure what Christine meant when she proposed this topic, but it sounded intriguing enough to give it a try. For the next hour or so, our small group jumped right in with improvisational exercises, mixing sounds, music, movements, storytelling, and drawing. It’s hard for me to describe in words just how freeing and “un-conference like” this was, but suffice it to say that it was a fun, creative, and energizing experience.

On Friday I joined a session devoted to exploring the differences between shame and humiliation in our society. It was an earnest, heartfelt exchange, mixing theoretical ideas with personal experiences. Although it wasn’t required that the group reach a consensus on such complex matters, it’s fair to say that many of us agreed that while the experience of shame can, at times, lead to personal growth, the experience of humiliation is more often a diminishing one.

Dignity at work

One of my contributions to this year’s workshop was a Thursday evening talk on advancing dignity at work. It gave me a chance to share many topics that I’ve raised here on this blog, such as workplace bullying, the low-wage economy, and the ravages of globalization. I tied together these topics under the overall rubric of worker dignity.

I then 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.

***

Related post

For a closer look at the work of HumanDHS, here’s a post I wrote earlier this fall, “Creating an intellectual framework for human dignity.”

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Chris Guillebeau’s advice: Do your own annual review

Chris Guillebeau is a prolific writer, entrepreneur, and global sojourner who is playing a lead role in encouraging people — Gen Xers and Millennials especially — to think creatively and independently about what to do with their lives. One of his recommended life-planning activities is to do your own annual review as the year comes to a close. Using his blog, he shares his annual reviews with readers and asks for their feedback.

In a recent e-mail update to his list subscribers, he describes his annual review process this way:

Every year in December, I go away for a week and spend time reflecting on the year that’s drawing to a close, and then (and more importantly) make a lot of plans for the next year.

I’ve been sharing this process online since 2008, and many of our readers take part in it too. This is a free exercise and you can do it in your own way.

…Since I’ve been following this practice, it’s been the single most important ritual in ensuring I achieve meaningful and challenging goals.

In contrast to employer-provided performance reviews, which even Business Week has tagged a “worthless” corporate practice, the DIY annual review is, well, largely self-generated and self-directed. If, like Chris, you want feedback from others as part of your review process, it’s up to you do solicit it.

In one of my early references to Chris’s work, I praised his first book, The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World (2010), while adding that it suffered “from a touch of youthful arrogance.” Yikers! Well…today I’d change my words, suggesting that he writes with a (comparatively) youthful confidence that manages to convey both boldness and intelligence. If, at times, I feel a tad uncomfortable with the confidence Chris exudes, it may be due to the fact that I — at middle age — feel less certain about some things that I was completely convinced of back in my 30s. But that’s about me, not anyone else!

In any event, I like the idea of a personal annual review as a centering and planning exercise. I haven’t decided whether I’ll do it at the end of this year of at the conclusion of the academic year next May, but I’m sold on giving this a try.

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