Compliments of GrePC via Flickr

In the war of the mind I will make my stand (Casting Crowns).

I remember reading about a dysfunctional, codependent couple who engaged in a social sadomasochistic ritual each night. The wife (a stay at home spouse) experienced gut wrenching turmoil anticipating her husband’s reaction to dinner. To prolong her anxiety, he waited several minutes to either signal a “thumbs up” smirk, or conversely, displeasure – in which case the remainder of the evening was spent in miserable silence.

Individuals sometimes accept this lopsided state of affairs, one in which the subservient party is grateful for any small kindness. Employees so treated experience a complete lack of respect abetted by the abused. At work, are you simply relieved when an aggressive boss smiles in your direction (despite their past transgressions?). Have you become so accustomed to being beaten down that you remain childlike in their presence? If you’re hunted you escape, and if you’re suffocated you leave – unless you’ve given the reins to someone else.

In a movie one man (as part of a twisted social experiment), traded his freedom for a life in which all of his needs were met. He awoke the next morning to find an impenetrable glass wall in front of his house.

This man was both kept and trapped. At some firms employees are muzzled, stifled, and placed in a pen. They are afraid to stick one big toe out of their confines for fear of “caustic and swiftly administered punishment.” This is not how adults should feel.

Golden handcuffs, fear of the unknown, and a failure to demand respect result in our own entrapment. Blind obedience is not however in one’s best interests, or in the betterment of the greater working populace.

Cain argued that some people have the “emotional continence of a three-and-a-half-year-old toddler.” Immaturity is evident when the adults take a leave of absence. At work, is being treated with respect the norm, or does it only happen on rare occasions?

Overbearing behavior and anger displacement are a bully’s stock and trade. Aggressors (lacking the veneer of social graces) feel comfortable forcing a confrontation in which the losing party cowers.

I’m not sure what type of productivity managers expect to achieve if people are beaten to a pulp. Relatedly, some bosses act as a pre-crime unit ala the “Minority Report,” with their actions designed to catch you red handed through a series of probing questions. Bullies lack the “stop” mechanism of other people if they’re in situations where stopping isn’t required. In other words, they persist when they don’t perceive pushback.

Gary Namie has spearheaded a movement to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill, which would recognize respectful treatment of individuals at work (and encourage employers to enact civility policy).

Legislation may be especially necessary considering the wiring in our brains. In his book “The Better Angels of our Nature” Pinker explains the existence of a “rage circuit” in humans. This may be responsible for the phenomenon of “forward panic,” in which an opposing mob overwhelms an opponent whom they find defenseless.

Mob violence on the job occurs in a non-bloody manner. Pinker notes: “When an opportunity does arise to eliminate a hated opponent with little chance of reprisal, a Darwinian creature will seize on it.” He further explains that ambushes in which chimpanzees tear apart an isolated chimp are analogous to human “rampages,” in which a group comprised of three or four individuals mobs a solitary person – a member of the enemy camp: “The instinct behind rampages suggests that the human behavioral repertoire includes scripts for violence that lie quiescent and may be cued by propitious circumstances…” I find it both intriguing and appalling that humans can exhibit the savagery of apes.

To curb the tide against bullying (which is for the most part legal) perhaps a big stick is necessary. Expecting people to behave in accordance with a superimposed honor code may be too much to ask of workers nested in both hierarchical and social power differentials. Unconditional love on the job does not imply doormat status, but rather a state of mind that offers goodwill. It is not a substitute for questioning the abrogation of your social contract.

At work we trade an absence of showdown for a social blockade.  We say nothing about the hidden underbelly of unseemly behaviors that transpires behind the scenes. Today, what actions have you taken to uphold human dignity, to ensure a civil society, and to shatter the trappings of your encasement? Have you drawn a line in the sand regarding exploitation, ego-centric behavior, verbal abuse, and gang bullying?

Paradigmatic shifts aren’t accomplished when people keep their mouths shut. Change agents need to muster the courage to forge ahead – despite the opposing undercurrents. If you are unhappy at work, consider that your inertia strengthens the bars surrounding your freedoms.  A single action may result in a cascade of change, a domino effect that could improve your own situation and that of other people.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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