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?

Silence.

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

Silence.

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.