Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How to tame your dragon

Monsters under the bed. We've all had them.  Years ago, I interviewed children aged 5 to 8 about the monsters that come out in the night.  The stories that these children told me were vivid and real.  One was purple with bulging eyes and small arms and legs. It was an under-the-bed dweller.  Another was just a set of eyes that would be visible in the dark.  And it lived outside of her window and would tap on the window, wanting to come in.  They also told me what they do to conquer their fear and slay the dragon that stalked them at night.

One child talked about jumping from her bed to the hall way, because the hallway was beyond the reach of the monster.  Another child had a dog that would do a sweep of the room before bedtime, which confirmed there were no monsters that night.  Another child told me that as long as the blankets were tucked in under the mattress, there was no way her arms or legs could fall over the bed. Another child told me she went undercover, so the monster could not see her. 

Fear of dragons and monsters is really about our most basic need to feel safe, protected and in control of our environment. I wrote a poem about their stories, because fear of monsters is real, but emotionally charged at the same time. Here it is:

 Night Fear
 Sometimes in the night, 
Suspicion grows. 
It  creeps inside your closet, 
and seeps inside your head
and underneath the bed 
the silence begins to roar. 
As you lay in bed, it waits
and if you try to escape
lest you jump beyond its reach, 
that beast will drag you underneath.
The heavens erupt, 
the angels cry 
their tears stream down the window 
while bolts of lightening pierce the sky
and through the tears you will see it there
waiting for  you to close your eyes.
There is only one way to escape the beast
that lies beneath your bed
that creeps in through the closet
and seeps inside your head.
You must confront the demon if you dare
for unless you do,
it will always be there.

 We all understand fear.  The monsters in the poem were just manifestations of their fears. We tend to grow out of our fear of monsters as we get older, but we encounter other types of undesirable behaviors that are more difficult to deal with.  Bullies.

Bullying is not a manifestation of fear. Bullying is real and common. Bullying is not imaginary. Bullying is a fact of reality and it is often systemic.  How many times do we encounter people who are control based, power seeking and destructive to others? How many times do we see people in power with these less than desirable tendencies.  How many times do we react and give way to their fear mongering by being afraid, or by not confronting the fear.

 If a child can see the irrationality of fear, and find a way to address the fear, then why as adults do we accept fear and bad treatment? When did we lose our ability to fight back? When did we become politically correct?

My dad always says that we cannot change people, we can only change the way people affect us.  Easier said that done. There is something insidious and creepy about protecting the poorly behaved while their victims run and hide.  Or worse yet, need counselling.  And if we do fight back, how does one fight back? How do you tame the dragon in the light of day, is the question.

 Here is what the Canadian Safety Council has to say about bullying in the workplace.

“Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of aggression is particularly difficult because unlike the typical forms of school bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace therefore takes a wide variety of forms such as:
• being rude or belligerent
• talking in a dismissive tone ("talking down") to subordinates and/or peers
• screaming or cursing
• having an arrogant attitude in general, e.g., "I'm right and everyone else is always wrong"
• being quick to criticize and slow to praise
• destruction of property or work product
• character assassination
 • spreading malicious rumors
• gossiping about others
• not providing appropriate resources and amenities in a fair and equitable manner
• social ostracism
• physical assault”

 According to the Canada Safety Council, “Over 72 percent of bullies are bosses, some are coworkers and a minority bully higher ups. A bully is equally likely to be a man or a woman.  . . . Bullies tend to be insecure people with poor or non-existent social skills and little empathy. They turn this insecurity outwards, finding satisfaction in their ability to attack and diminish the capable people around them. The bully is always driven to control others."

There are tools in place to help organizations weed out these kind of behaviors.  I have seen the constructive culture approach work, but it must have the commitment and leadership to be successful.  The leader must demonstrate the desired behaviors and hold his or her management accountable. The following is the recommended course of action.

What can you do if you think you are being bullied?

If you feel that you are being bullied, discriminated against, victimized or subjected to any form of harassment:
FIRMLY tell the person that his or her behaviour is not acceptable and ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or union member to be with you when you approach the person.

KEEP a factual journal or diary of daily events. Record:
  • The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible
  • The names of witnesses.
  • The outcome of the event.
Remember, it is not just the character of the incidents, but the number, frequency, and especially the pattern that can reveal the bullying or harassment.

KEEP copies of any letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received from the person.

REPORT the harassment to the person identified in your workplace policy, your supervisor, or a delegated manager. If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management.

DO NOT RETALIATE. You may end up looking like the perpetrator and will most certainly cause confusion for those responsible for evaluating and responding to the situation.

(Adapted from: "Violence in the Workplace Prevention Guide". CCOHS, 2001)

 Bullying creates a residual effect because it leaves its "victims" feelling powerless, frustrated and often devalued.  If you  have been bullied, chances are you still feel the sting for a a long time after. Something may remind you of a bullying event, and you wince.  It is traumatic and a serious issue.

 Like the child who imagines the monster each night, and lives in fear, when we accept bad treatment, we carry it forward to other places. We may turn it inward and withdraw from others, or we may lash out at others undeservedly.

 It can become part of who we are. I think that's sad.  Because then we pass it on.  It's a bad virus. We know from our dragon slaying days as children how to instinctively deal with our monsters, we need to remember that it's OK as adults to do the same.

Bullying Facts



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Humility is Vogue.

The Noble and the Ignoble in Gothic Architecture 
Humility.  A human quality that allows us to stand in the shoes of another.  Understanding another person's experience is a challenge.  Living inside some one's reality is next to impossible.

In order to understand another person's experience, one has to get off the "me" track. And that's not easy.

We are trained to think about "me."  It's the first question we ask. The closer to our own reality, the more we care.

The "me" factor is complex because it is all about my world, my experience, my culture, my language, my values, my fears, my goals, my wishes, my dreams, and my beliefs.  I call this a mask. The more factors there are, the more impermeable it becomes.

We are masters of mask making.  We choose not to see that which makes us uncomfortable.  We ignore the pain of others. We might sympathize, and possibly empathize, but rarely do we allow ourselves to care.  We mask that which is imperfect or inconvenient.

19th century social commentator and architect John Ruskin authored  "The Stones of Venice". He wrote about the noble and the ignoble in Gothic architecture and the shift from hand chiseled imperfect forms to mass produced perfection.  He spoke of a loss of humility in the quest for perfection.

Imperfection is a mask in itself.  We are afraid of imperfection so we hide from it, and do not acknowledge it.  We ignore the plight of the disabled, and hope we never have to stand in their shoes. I often think of this and the many masks we use to hide ourselves from the experiences of others.  Think of yours.  Now multiply that by a world. This becomes even more complex when different languages are factored in to the conversation. It's all about  me, to the power of the world. No wonder world peace is unattainable.

I am working with a group of people who share in a vision to create accessible visual communication for people who cannot communicate in words.  I first became involved in this project when I met a speech pathologist from Saskatchewan with a compelling vision for an international standard of communication via visual symbols, or pictograms.

I was hooked. First of all, I wondered how is it possible that we have missed this?  How can one group of people (which by the way could be you or I any time) who cannot communicate verbally have been locked out of the human conversation?  Listening to his compassion and desire to improve life for just one person drew me in. It is compelling, humbling and important.

I have dedicated my life and work to the art and business of communication. So I feel blessed to have walked across this man's path. He has shown me something that I would never have seen if I hadn't seen it through his eyes.  I am reminded that humility is a great attribute of humanity, and if we can remember to stand in some one's experience, for just awhile, we might see a world and forget about the "me" fascination.