Monica Lewinsky has a new TED talk that I hope you will view.
In it she tells us about her experiences as the first cyberbullied person in the new age of Internet communications. Her nightmare was driven by a culture that not only permits bullying, but makes money from it. Advertisers benefit from every click you make to view the story about a shamed person online. Monica makes an articulate and compelling case for compassion as the way to counteract our cultural blood-sport of online shaming and bullying.
She is right about the need for compassion. If we could all live by the simple commandment: Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You, the world would be immediately transformed and it would be a far better place. Yet, even though compassion is a central premise for mature and ethical interpersonal interaction, there is also a need for accountability. If the Internet were not anonymous, for example, there would be fewer vicious tweets and comments. As soon as people are held accountable for their public opinions, they are far more careful about bullying others.
Bullying occurs in workplaces as well. I have written articles about the boss from hell and the response to those articles from readers has been passionate and personal. I wrote an article that was published in Illinois Legal Times describing a horrible partner at a law firm and I described the effect his bullying had on the young woman who worked with him. After the article was published, I received many responses from other traumatized associates who were certain I was writing about their workplaces even though none of them actually practiced at the workplace I wrote about. The problem is widespread.
In my counseling practice I hear about bosses who yell, scream, belittle, shame, or bully the people who work for them. Once I heard about an impossible partner who yelled at his associates even threw things at them and then, remarkably, that same partner came to work with me for career counseling. I had the opportunity to understand why he had become the boss from hell. He was having a very difficult time in his life and was taking it out on others. Bullies need help too. Often they are really hurting. That same compassion that Monica Lewinsky is talking about is important for nearly everyone. I was able to work with this partner to help him understand how his behavior affected the people around him in his work place and also help him move on to a job that did not trigger his anxiety and temper.
Sometimes people who are termed bullies feel they are being unfairly labeled themselves. It is true that there are overly sensitive people who can and do overreact to comments made by their bosses. Some people can feel bullied when what they are reacting to may be well-intentioned but poorly delivered criticism. However, even if there are overly sensitive workers or understandable reasons why a boss becomes a screamer, there are, nonetheless, some basic but as yet unwritten rights that workplaces should enforce when it comes to workplace culture.
You have a right to work without being yelled at, screamed at, shamed, or bullied. Everyone knows who the bullies are, but people are afraid to speak up. People quit their jobs rather than confront this problem even when a highly dysfunctional boss creates a toxic work environment affecting nearly everyone and negatively impacting productivity. People are afraid to lose their jobs or become whistle blowers for good reason. It can be dangerous for one person to speak out alone. Consequently, there can be a culture of silence surrounding the bully. Management has a duty to act to get the bullying boss, manager or partner some help and put a stop to the behavior. Others at a workplace could also band together to speak up if they witness consistent bullying. If people band together they have more power. Silence is assent. Failing to step up, speak up, and open up about workplace bullying allows the workplace to be infected by an insidious and damaging culture.
If we all insist on a standard of fairness and accountability and if we do not tolerate a culture of bullying at work or online, the world we live and work in will be a much better experience for everyone.