There’s a lot of talk about bullies these days. Bullies in the workplace, bullies in the playground. Bullies from a past life that made you stronger, bullies that haunt you 24/7 courtesy of social media. They’re a nasty bit of stuff – unrelenting, unfeeling and, perhaps for some, unaware of the true and full extent of the damage their doing. Am I being too generous?
So all the talk about bullies points people to ‘out the bully’ – make it stop, tell someone, get help. And this approach, it seems, is being taken by some brave souls – certainly at school-level. If you’re lucky, you will pluck up the huge courage it must take to tell an adult what’s going on. The pressure must be immense – we all remember school days filled with angst and competition for friends and cut-throat mean-ness – and I do not underestimate the big step it is to go public. But, looking at it from the outside it’s the only way, a no-brainer. The bully’s power lies in secrecy. They need to be called out and, being only human, once outed their power can only shrink away. What’s more, if such behaviour is tolerated, it can only serve to encourage more of the same.
So what about when you’re an adult?
While the official script reads ‘Stand up and say ‘No’ to bullies, we cannot underestimate the deeply embedded tendency we have to inflict manners and politeness on human beings from an early age – particularly in Ireland, particularly on girls. Be good. Don’t raise your voice. Wait your turn. Be happy with what you have. Laugh at the joke. Don’t be awkward. Don’t rock the boat – you’ll ruin it. Be pleasant.
Admittedly, we’ve come a long way. Passed are the days when we would cower to the whims of the local parish priest or bow to the status of ‘doctor’. I remember going through a London airport with my granny in 1990 or so. She was in her 80s and had just gotten a new coat from my aunt, which she wore travelling back home. The gentleman in Customs jokingly told her he would have to hold onto the coat and she nodded politely, moving on – ‘That’s grand boy, that’s grand’. Even I as a youngster knew he was joking, but she was two generations ahead of me, taught not to argue with authority.
We’ve all seen it in the workplace – but, unlike school policy, the working world is two-faced when it comes to dealing with bullying. If you raise your hand to say you have been treated badly, unfairly, been offended, slighted, treated inappropriately, you are not a champion standing up to a bully – you are a troublemaker. And nobody wants to be a troublemaker. Troublemakers accidentally get shafted and left behind – oops, he/she obviously couldn’t hack it. Why didn’t they keep the head down?
I have experienced many situations in my career to date – but one stands out. I was in a meeting with 12 or so colleagues and a manger obviously intent on ‘rattling a few cages’ to inject a sense of increased urgency into a project. I happened to be co-ordinating said project and this progress meeting turned into a solo-run for an Olympic medal in shouting (at me) in order to make a point to everyone else. I saw an external consultant shrink in disbelief at this sudden adoption of a 1960s approach to management. Most others bowed their heads, tolerating it in the hope of avoiding any sudden off-shoots of his wrath, sparing me embarrassment, because that was just his way – it was how he did business. He wasn’t a bad guy – I would imagine this was his way of trying to motivate us all. But I was embarrassed. It’s embarrassing to be shouted at and feel you are unjustly being made a fool of.
(And just to be clear, no, we weren’t talking brain surgery.)
But in retrospect, I was only a fool for not calmly standing up, requesting that he get a grip, quick, and walking out. I really wish I had – and not just for me. But for himself and others in order to afford him the chance of improving his future behaviour and for the protection of less-resilient colleagues. No-one ever mentioned it to me afterwards – it was just tolerated.
Okay. So let’s venture off the scale, and to the outer end of that totally different scale.
The Harvey Weinstein story is irking me. Turns out he’s a disgusting, egotistical megalomaniac who preyed on young, vulnerable girls over decades. Shocking stuff to most – though not, it would seem, if you are part of the Hollywood circle. Old news there.
One absolutely could not expect the young girls who fell victim to his crimes (because that’s what they were) and the team working for him to challenge the mass of ego and delusion that is Harvey Weinstein – threatened with financial and professional annihilation, who can blame their timidity in the face of his massive legal and monetary strength?
I do question the cover-up that was enabled by members of his board, established actors and actresses and his business peers. Perhaps they were too polite, eager to keep on his good side, maintain the facade – don’t rock the boat, whatever you do. The truth is, it was easier to keep the head down, to tolerate the intolerable in order to avoid his wrath.
Perhaps we need to learn a few lessons from the school yard.
What a pity nobody had the means or strength to stand up to this despicable man in the early days, to nip it in the bud, to out him and shout loudly; ‘YOUR BEHAVIOUR IS NOT ACCEPTABLE AND WILL NOT BE TOLERATED’. It might have saved so much hurt and pain for his victims and him from old age in jail, where I hope he promptly finds himself.
This blog post has appeared on: exquisite.ie & huffingtonpost.co.uk