I think a cohort of a former generation of playground bullies are now our bosses, our colleagues and our co-workers. It is a juxtaposition of adult and youth generations. I think about it from a big chunk of my community work, where I have worked alongside public schools and with youth support. I think about media blitzes concerning bullying in school and inappropriate use of social media facilitating harassment, and yielding self-harm. I applaud the forward-thinkers who named the underbelly of our youth culture, and provided concrete top-down solutions toward safe classrooms (from administration, to instructors, to students). We broke through a confusing, maladaptive culture of “sticks and stones” and “don’t be a tattler”, and gave way to a contemporary Colorosso philosophy of finding voice and remaining not the “bystander”.
Within the past two decades, I used to co-lead classroom and teacher Professional Development about the repercussions of “unsafe” classrooms. I used narratives to speak about teachers overtly (and through silence, covertly) allowing –and in effect facilitating– emotional and demoralizing milieus. I openly argued such misbehaviour breaches the teacher’s signed contract, and is reprehensible to their union and employment. I named statistics about running away, homelessness, self harm and suicide as possible results from youth feeling “unsafe”. I worked on empowering youth to be more confident, more supportive, and more assertive; to have more integrity to talk to someone trustworthy about harassment and bullying. I sat on judicial inquiries about safe academia, consequences for bullies, and even Human Rights sensitivity training. I lent my voice to pioneer safer classrooms in public and post-secondary education; and train instructors and employees on how to self-designate as “safe” professionals in-school and on-campus, so to make education a place to thrive with maximum stimuli (and minimal hindrances) to psyche and morale.
I bridge parts of my story with current workplace practices. Personally, I grew up in an English home and I was a French-immersion student. On the positive, I experienced enriched learning and strong grades; but on the negative, I experienced 12 years with many of the same students…like a family…like a difficult, dysfunctional family…growing pains and teachers –albeit during a much different era—who were not trained in how to safe-keep harassment out of a classroom of youth going through puberty. I map out my personal public school experiences because that is what it felt like for me when I was bullied in school: Being labelled “gay”; and where “gay” was used in an era to be an inexcusably negative label. As a youth, I did not know how to effectively describe what I was experiencing and witnessing: I felt confused; I did well academically, but I did not fit in; I could excel in one subject (and draw crowds) but fail miserably in other subjects, and freeze in the face of verbal abuse –or conversely, silencing—when it came from teachers and students; I took sick time for problems –or “responses”—I could not name; I did not always consistently know who were my friends or allies; and hoped to God I could either be invisible, or quit, or run away, or die. I use the word “response” because I do not believe we react to our world quite the same was as we ‘respond to stimuli’.
If the stimulus challenges us, we can rise to the occasion; if the stimulus darkens our light, we recoil and shrink. I think that is the same description of how we respond to a workplace when we are bullied and harassed. We forever question what the supervisor ‘truly meant’; we pull back from feeling comfortable to excel in our contribution; we accept unreasonable overtime finishing an unreasonable task; heck, once I even paused from questioning a supervisor who trained me in ‘how to do work in my pyjamas on a day off’ (because it was still my initial work probationary period)…well, that is, until I learned how to ask open-ended questions and hypotheticals to that same supervisor and the Human Resources representative…and to employ some of Colorosso’s work, not to get that person “in trouble”, but to keep us all “out of trouble”.
In one of my favourite movies, a children’s choir sings ,‘you got to be bad, you got to be bold, you got to be wiser, you got to be hard, you got to be tough, you got to be stronger.’ I hum it to myself, and I consequently yell out in my mind, “because I‘m worth it!” I learned to find my voice with my colleagues and employers, whether I work in small or large companies; but mostly, I learned my workplace rights, Ministry of Labour standards, and how to shop around for quality-of-employment. If I put this much work into my self-care and self-talk, I am willing to put as much work into my quality-of-work-life. Dear adult playground bullies, who grew up in a former generation of ‘old boys clubs’ and ‘mean girls’, I sincerely welcome you to a new generation of social conscience, workplace ethics, and workers’ rights.
I will not contribute to being part of the ‘dysfunctional workplace family’. For me, being a good employee is learning my company’s goals and values inside out; learning my duties inside out; learning how to present the end-results with win-win gains; and sensitising bosses, colleagues and co-workers into a current generation of rights, responsibilities for Health and Safety, and Resource Protection: Protecting the employee as a financial asset to the company. When you know you feel unwell, you do not take a doctor’s ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you’ diagnosis lying down: You get a second –or a third or a fifth or a ninth—opinion.
The rest of that favourite song goes, ‘you got to be cool, you got to be calm, we got to stick together,” because it is okay to reach out to your allies who nurture and validate you, and get help. One former co-worker once told me ‘it was all in my head’ because I felt stressed over the expectation to do additional work at home, on my day off, in my pyjamas: I responded to the feedback, and I sure gave that same co-worker quite a lengthy education on rights in the workplace and toxic work environments! Then I got more help! Reaching out for help means asking and asking and asking lots of questions, until you get for what you are looking; what you deserve. You deserve a quality of work-life, as much as a quality of home-life: Indeed, because you are worth it. (By Michael Best to DOSmagazine)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial on DOSmagazine.