I’m tired of workplace violence. I’m not just talking about bullets and bombs. I’m talking about physical aggression in the form of path-blocking and contemptuous stares. It’s the malicious, dehumanizing comments as I pass or when I step out of the room. It’s persistent and consistent disrespectful and unkind behaviors. It’s the willful taking of room in order to create scarcity and feelings of non-belonging in shared professional spaces. It’s a hostile racial climate orchestrated to marginalize. It’s aggressiveness with the end goal of dispossessing of employment and position. It’s thinly veiled abusive language that excludes, degrades and humiliates coworkers based on my gender and skin color. Come to think of it, this is all about bullets and bombs—the kinds that explode in the heart and mind leave people needlessly debilitated from a normal day at the office.
Causal violence harms because it attempts to annihilate and eviscerate the human spirit. Daily enactments of violence disconnect us from our highest selves. When we lose ourselves in the anonymity of numbers and algorithms, the resulting degradation making them permissible and tolerable. We have lost all need for personal, civic and social responsibilities requiring etiquette, good will and temperance, the fabric necessary to transform our thoughts before they become actions. These elements have combined and escalated the many ways we perpetuate violence in professionally shared social spaces.
La Nueva Obra
Now more than ever, we need a physical, spiritual and psychic prophylactic against workplace violence. We should be able to leave our homes and return in more or less the same state of health. The truth is otherwise. Incidences of harassment, direct assaults and numerous forms of mental and verbal abuse are systemic, and are eroding the mental and physical health of even the most vulnerable among us, causing a great economic gulf in society that is totally unnecessary. There are enough resources for all of us to thrive, and yet the gulch widens. It’s time to for a radical accountability that dismantles violence and oppression in the workplace. It’s on us to do it for ourselves.
We don’t get to choose our birth family, but as a transitional character working to understand and improve my psycho-social inheritance, I look to where I can strengthen the foundation of who I am. I’m long past the seductive intoxication of Impostor Syndrome—most of us survived college and grad school, and by the time we get to the office, we know where we belong, but then we encounter the barracks of the in crowd, who collude to haze black and Latina women out of the spaces we’ve rightfully earned . Enough is enough. But maybe there’s a part of this that really is about me. So let’s examine that, too.
According to a few trusted psychology studies from PsychologyToday.com and Havard HBR.org, the workplace seems to most closely replicate the family structure, and even if you’re from the lucky few without a dysfunctional childhood, you could work with people who bully, belittle, exclude and manipulate others as a routine part of their workday. That makes many vulnerable people subject to a proliferation of unhealthy professional behavior. It’s a lesson I’m still learning from my experiences teaching, running the office and writing in Silicone Valley. It’s time for a new status quo, one built on active professional kindness, authentic respectful communication and proactive training to unlearn the toxic behavior known to harm.
A former mental-health professional told me that people will often replicate their personal family culture in the workplace. Likely an unintentional consequence, we may carry familial habits into new spheres, such as the job market. Once in the professional space, the members of this work-life family varies tremendously. I’ve experienced violence, aggression and rudeness in the workplace. Let’s consider the contemporary alternatives to kindness in offices, college campuses and schools all over the country: contempt, violence and mass murder. It’s time to cultivate a consistent, daily professionalism and kindness in the workplace.
People from targeted groups, i.e., people of color, women, and people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to economic disenfranchisement—an extreme form of personal violence designed to attack on a spiritual-social-psychological that has strong evidence that it leads to depression, homelessness and unemployment that also results in loss of healthcare in addition to lost wages. Personal hero, Colin Kaepernick, stands for this new accountability: We witnessed him take a knee to protest the most important social-justice issue of our time—the killing of black people with impunity; he was economically disenfranchised in a very public and visible manner. Trump even demanded publicly, from our highest office, that the NFL fire any players who protested. This is an old standard of discrimination that reeks of Jim Crow. But if the NFL can change, we all can.
White men are not the only ones that need to take on the task of reforming the practices that reinforce violence and discrimination in the workplace. I’ll let Robin DiAngelo explain to white woman why you all don’t get a free pass. DiAngelo’s video about white privilege explains how easy it for us to miss our own reflection in the mirror. And neither do women of color, who may have internalized oppression, enact these same unhealthy behaviors. No one gets a pass.
So can we eradicate the toxic patterns that lead to stress-related illnesses, retaliatory violence in which the deeply-wounded individual returns to the sight of harm to enact revenge and economic hardship festering in toxic work environments? We’ve moved past the moments of permissiveness that have characterized the bad behavior seen in schools, offices and work spaces. Wake up to our own intent and impact. We have to interrupt toxic behavior when we see them. This new era demands that we each stay on our best behavior.
Who knows, you just could get on my list of heroes?
“Bruce Lee” by Anna Torbino
Living Artist Project