Friday, 20 July 2018

Silence is Complicity

I recently saw another fabulous documentary on Martin Luther King’s life.  This man’s integrity and the difference he made to humanity stands out in history. He was intelligent and was able to touch people’s consciousness by his simple and clear dealing with the truth. A stinging but powerful statement was his commentary around “the appalling silence of good people.”  

To be clear he actually said,
“We will have to repent, in this generation, not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.
“He went on to say,
 “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
Another battle is now being fought and not before time. A significant moment came in 2017 with the ‘outing’ of Harvey Weinstein and the many other men who have used their position and power to sexually and emotionally abuse women. It started as a trickle but very quickly became a flood as more and more men were ‘exposed’ for their past bullying. Daily we read about more and more high profile men being ‘outed’.  In our own backyard the Law Society have acknowledged the problem that exists in their profession. (1)
A wide cross-section of society have joined the chorus of support for these brave women who have spoken out. Oprah Winfrey’s speech as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes was not only inspiring but pointed out the work to be done. “It's not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It's one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.” (2)
We know this is only the tip of the iceberg as harassment in the workplace is unfortunately common, taking many forms and often hits hardest for those operating further down the hierarchy.
Employees’ acquiescence is usually based on fear. Fear of losing your job, fear of not being promoted and fear that further harassment will take place if you don’t bow down to the bully. These bullies usually operate ‘behind closed doors’ and are clever manipulators and often outright liars. Colleagues too often ‘run for cover’ being too afraid themselves to speak out. Their silence is demoralising and hurtful but to some degree very understandable with them having career aspirations, jobs to protect and families to feed. Unfortunately this silence adds power to the bully’s position. These people are actually the very protective enablers and their silence is in fact no more than complicity.
I have seen bullying in the workplace. It was very cleverly managed behind closed doors and extremely emotionally damaging. Unfortunately this was the leader’s modus operandi so the harassment didn’t stop there with others affected. Having watched the damage from afar and trying to intervene became a bitter and depressing experience.
I was delighted by Oprah’s message in her speech encouraging the press and all of us to uncover the truth and not turn a blind eye to corruption and injustice.

Unfortunately confronting harassment of any sort in the work place is an uphill battle for the victims. The system works against them in a number of ways. Board and senior management members often ‘dig in’ to support the regime as any admission or ‘fronting up’ is an admission of personal and collective fault. They often also perceive it is bad for business and bad for their organisation’s brand. It is easier to hire lawyers to use the power of the law to make their problem go away. It is often a ‘David v Goliath’ situation for the victim (3).

I thought Taylor Swift comments after she won the court case against a former radio host who had groped her summed the situation up rather well.

"Going to court to confront this type of behaviour is a lonely and draining experience, even when you win, even when you have the financial ability to defend yourself," Swift told Time. "Even though awareness is higher than ever about workplace sexual harassment, there are still so many people who feel victimized, afraid and silenced by their abusers and circumstances." (4)

This view point can be generalised across all types of bullying in the workplace.

As an educator, I feel a big responsibility to ensure these values around standing up for what is right is a central part of the children’s education. Having empathy for others and a social conscience is fundamental to what it is to be human. The Weinstein case has highlighted one aspect (sexual harassment) of the ‘black hole’ of injustice and although depressing, it has helped to ‘rattle a few cages’. I am hoping it will give others strength to speak out and what a difference to the world this would make.

Meanwhile schools and families have the obligation to explicitly educate our young people with these central issues of human responsibility but most of all, ‘walk their talk’ as modelling is the most powerful weapon against the insidious nature of bullying.
 Picture: Love this