Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Are we afraid?

It's a curious thing.

When I write or speak on the subject of What's Wrong In Our Workplaces, people generally chip in quite willingly and energetically.  When I speak of speaking out on the subject of What's Wrong In Our Workplaces, of not only venting about the problems but actively seeking solutions, people are not quite so willing and enthusiastic to discuss.

Sometimes I am met with anger and resentment and some variation on shut-the-hell-up.  More often I am met with a fatalistic oh-I-don't-like-it-either-but-what-can-you-do.

And when it is clear that I am neither going to shut the hell up nor going to sink into the morass of fatalism?


No comments.  No thumbs-up.  No way-to-go boosts of encouragement.


We fear to speak our minds.

Good reasons do exist for being afraid.  By and large, the average American workplace seems to depend upon living in a continual low grade (or not so low grade) state of insecurity and fear.  I don't like this, and that is wrong, but if I say anything I will lose my job, and then what will I do?  It's not safe to speak out; at least, that is what we are encouraged to believe.

In the extreme, a culture of fear is actively and blatantly cultivated.  I myself once worked in such a place:  People were targeted for ongoing harassment, continually criticized and picked apart, given an unpredictable barrage of good-cop-bad-cop treatment, in an effort to either break them into docility or push them out the door.

Our material security depends upon fitting in--or at least appearing to fit in--with the system.  Making waves is a good way to mark yourself as a Problem To Be Fixed.  Standing up when no one else is willing to stand up with you is indeed both frightening and risky.

And yet, as long as we remain afraid to speak, afraid to act, afraid to even acknowledge the truth of what we are seeing and experiencing in the workplace, nothing will ever change.  The only way to change circumstances that stress and oppress is to be willing to see and to say and to act.  And that begins with changing what we believe about ourselves and about the world in which we live and work.

Change begins within.

The American business world can, in many aspects, be viewed as one giant dysfunctional system.  The same insights that apply to healing from dysfunctional family relationships apply to healing from dysfunctional work relationships.

So much of what's wrong in the workplace depends upon psychological control of the people who work there.  Changing the outer shape of how we do business begins, then, with changing the ideas we hold about ourselves, our own worth, how business should be done, and how business should not be done.  People who cannot be shamed, intimidated, or devalued are people who cannot be manipulated by others.

If you believe in yourself, if you have a sense of healthy and appropriate boundaries, and if you are joined by everyone around you in not just believing but knowing that you are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect, eventually you will prevail.  Bullies--in all walks of life--thrive on other people's insecurity, self-loathing, and fear.  Gain confidence, self-respect, and perspective, and bullies find you a less attractive target for victimization.

A healthy inner disposition is, of course, no guarantee against ever being victimized, but it gives you a foundation of inner strength from which you can advocate for yourself and for others to stand up against unjust treatment and to stand up for your own fundamental humanity and well-being.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Be Awesome

Have you ever had the thought:

If I were any more awesome, I'd be Neil Patrick Harris--RIDING A UNICORN.

I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Faded revolutionaries

We've papered the walls
with our faded revolution,
our passion become
a conversation piece,
the pigment of our muse.

Oh!  Those were the days
of glory!  we sigh,

fingers curled round a cup of cappuccino.

In youth, it all seems clear. There are so many things wrong with the world. Why are we the only ones who seem to see?  Well, there are a few elders, the few over thirty who share our vision;  we look to them as our guides.  Yet, oddly, the ones we deem wisest are not the ones who wield power.  Why is that?  And why do not the ones in power change the things that so obviously need changing?  Clearly they simply need to see more clearly, and then the power of truth will compel them.

And so we go forth boldly, determined to change the world.  Be the change we wish to see, living as if the obstacles to change did not exist.  Until, sooner or later, crisis:  I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow in the knee.  Stabbed by the office politics we thought we could ignore.  The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

And we give up, give in, fade.

And we look at the next generation of youth, and we nod and we say, oh, you'll learn.  You'll get burned.  You'll be like we are.  Inevitably.  Someday.

And we look at the few among our peers, the ones who seem to refuse to learn, even after they get burned, and we think ah, some people just never grow up.  What can you do.

What can you do?

A hell of a lot more than you've conditioned yourself to believe.

We've been talked out of trusting the evidence of our eyes.  We've accepted our culture's lesson that the path to security and success is to praise the beauty of the naked emperor's clothing.  We've learned to love Big Brother.  And we've learned to ignore the voice within ourselves that says, insistently:

It doesn't have to be this way.

What human beings have created, human beings can change.

True, there are indeed external obstacles.  Visualizing and wishing alone won't make it so.  Yet every constructive action begins with a vision, an idea.  Every building begins with a blueprint, and every blueprint begins in the imagination of an architect, or two, or ten.

But if we are afraid to envision, afraid to dream, afraid to question and to challenge and to seek change, we will never lay the first brick.

We have been conditioned to be afraid.  We have been conditioned to stop questioning, stop challenging, just do as we are told.  Our access to material support depends upon our obedience and conformity to The Way Things Are.  Conditioned by the carrot and the stick, we allow our youthful freshness of vision to fade, and we convince ourselves that it was all just a dream.  A nice dream, a really nice dream, perhaps, but now it's time to wake up.

Except you weren't dreaming.  Wake up.

If we dared to combine the idealism of our youth with the wisdom and experience of our years, imagine what we could do.

And then, go beyond imagining.

Lay the first brick.  Make it so.