Bully Pulpit


I recently left a job of close to 15 years, and not by choice.  Well, it was my choice to speak up against the bullying going on in the office.  This bullying wasn’t new, just intensified; but I couldn’t keep silent any longer, in spite of the knowledge that I’d probably lose my job.

Over the years,  I’d seen a number of employees being chosen as the next targets, subjected to control and intimidation, verbal and nonverbal abuse.  Each, in turn, was driven from the organization; and in my inability to take a stand against the abuse, I disappointed my employees and myself.

Until the cost of sacrificing my humanity in exchange for whatever fragile ‘security’ the job offered became intolerable.  I guess I just felt ready enough to deal with the uncertainty and fear about the future to finally do the right thing.

Bullying has been getting a lot more attention lately, and I used to think it applied mostly to schoolchildren.  But it’s also very much alive in the workplace, and like a cunning virus, can disguise itself while it spreads its nasty infection.

An accomplished employee nearing retirement recently left the same organization, due to what she described as a ‘mean girls’ culture.   When the complaint was brought to senior managers, they excused the behavior  as “the stress caused by recent department changes.”

Other explanations like “it’s a personality conflict” , or “society is so much ruder these days” are used to minimize bullying’s effects, and relieve us of the responsibility to intervene.    It’s always been scary to stand up to the bully, so it’s not surprising so many of us don’t.

Unfortunately, there’s no law yet holding employers accountable for the damage bullying causes. But awareness and advocacy can help.  The Workplace Bullying Institute,    http://www.workplacebullying.org, is a great resource for employees at every level of an organization. Reading more about bullying and it’s connection to abuse dynamics in families gave me a better understanding of my response to the the bullying occurring at the organization.  Most of us, after all,  have been in the roles of bully, target, silent witness, or protector at one time or another, and our roles in the workplace often mirror the ones we’ve experienced in our personal lives.

My willingness to risk inevitable retaliation came in part from growing self-confidence.  That said, I also believe the civil rights movements occurring over the last several months have really driven the point home to me.   I happened to be in Barcelona this summer when the Marriage Equality Act was passed in the US, and the feelings of joy and celebration were tinged with both relief and sadness for the injustices long borne.

The courage to protest injustice was again demonstrated in Baltimore, with those among more privileged groups joining hands with the marginalized.  So much bravery in the face of scorn and potential backlash…how could I remain silent?

Still too soon to know what kind of work – and how much – I’ll be able to do  in the future. While I’ll be wrestling with uncertainty for a while yet, I’m no longer wrestling with guilt.

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