Among the many atrocities that plague our nation, one stands out, that much is written about, but rarely spoken of, in or outside the work place. A number of states are considering anti bullying laws. It has become such a phenomenon, that work place abuse has now caught the attention of law makers.
I remember an experience I had with an agency I worked at over a decade ago. That year the swine flew had emerged and was feared by everyone. As fate would have it, I was the first case in my state. I ran a 106 fever and it was the most sick I can remember.
I called my boss that Monday morning to let him know I had caught the swine flew over the weekend and would not be able to work. He immediately began to accuse me of lying and playing hooky, even after explaining to him my temperature, and the seriousness of this illness. He quizzed me for about 10 minutes trying to catch me in a contradiction. With no progress in convincing me that I only had a cold, he finally ordered me to come to work, or else.
I dragged myself out of bed, burning up with fever, got dressed, staggered out the door, and went in to work. I felt like my head was going to explode with heat. It was the toughest work day of my life, but I managed to finish the day, came home, and crashed. I told him that I would be out the rest of the week. I think when he saw me in person, he knew I was not lying.
In one of the gospels, there is a story told of the Roman Centurion who came to Jesus to heal his slave of a fever. Jesus immediately granted the centurion’s request.
Roman Centurions had a reputation for being the most ruthless men in the roman army. They achieved their position and power by moving up through the ranks. There was one present at the crucifixion of Christ. It is a curious thing that this centurion was much less ruthless than my own boss, living in a, so called,”democratic” country, and yet demanded that I come to work with a fever, possibly, higher than that of the centurion’s slave, and having perhaps a sickness, from one of the worst flu epidemics in our country. It was believed to be so contagious, that the doctor told me to wear a mask that covered my mouth when I was out in public. I guess there is more compassion found under Roman Fascism than in post modern America?
Even more astonishing were my co-workers who acted like I was nothing more than a gnat flying around the room. One might think they would have been afraid of catching the swine flu?
Many have heard the archaic illustration about the frog in boiling water. As it is told, the frog is put in water and the heat gradually increased that he doesn’t feel a sudden change in temperature and jump out of the pot to prevent boiling to death.
I use this example because much of human behavior mimics the frog’s reaction. This may be a clue as to why one set of behaviors would have been met with a vehement reaction in a different time period, and yet seems quite normal today. However, not everyone stays in a pot of water and boils to death. There are those who will jump out when they feel the temperature increase. The former are much more adjusted to the culture than the later.
Totalitarian societies do not appear over night. They evolve over decades and sometimes even centuries. The sudden appearance of a such a society would generate mass revolt. People have to be systematically sensitized for political systems like Fascism and Communism to succeed.
I recall one mental health agency where I worked, I was required to meet weekly billing standards. The supervisor and her brood of vipers tried to arm twist me to back date charts, a clear violation of ethics. When I refused to cheat the tax payers out of their money, I was branded the self righteous rebel who just didn’t understand the company’s spread sheet. The pressure was enormous because I needed my job to survive, and to my knowledge, I was the only one in the center refusing this directive. Though it claimed to be a non profit organization, the company proliferated the myth that it could not survive with out the billing requirements. It reminds me of what George Karlin once said, “If you throw honesty into the American economy, the whole thing will collapse.”
This created a divided conscious within myself generating strong emotions that made me feel I was the one who was in the wrong, and yet, simultaneously knowing that it was the fault of the company for its fraudulent activities.
Never the less, I continued to refuse in the face of immense coercion. The polarized subconscious conflict finally resulted in a physiological reaction creating a conversion disorder with me. I ended up in the hospital emergency room. My supervisor called to check on me and made an implication indicating she hoped that I would die. I guess I was in the way of her bonus by not meeting the billing demands?
My supervisor’s behavior was deemed perfectly normal in the minds of the staff. Though I am no fan of Ayn Rand, whom I will write about in another essay, one quote from her book, “Philosophy, who needs it?” comes to mind: “Your subconscious is like a computer; who programs it? your conscious mind. If you do not reach firm convictions, it gets programmed by chance, and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted.” Surely this describes the collective conscious of the agency where I was employed?
Employers must not be aware of the scientific data. Bullying and workplace harassment cost companies nationwide some 200 billion dollars annually in sick time and absenteeism, not to mention the loss of tax revenue through disability claims. Historically, bullying has been deemed a male problem, however, in an article posted by Psychology Today (July 10th, 2013), it is more often female supervisors who rain down a torrent of abuse: “One recent study, however anecdotal, suggests that female supervisors make some of the worst office bullies, mistaking assertivness for aggression as they make outrageous demands or mistreat their staff.”
That same issue reports a deep state of denial of how severe the problem really is among employers: “There is a fair amount of denial, rationalization, and even tacit acceptance of this issue, which is troubling, as in, “Yeah, Dave’s the office bully, but he sure can sell our products and the customers love him” or “She’s a bully for sure, but we need her project management skills when it’s crunch time.” The American employers flatter themselves with rationalizations by blaming the victim:“Some of our employees are just too sensitive,” they say, or, “We don’t need a ‘champion employee’ around here, seeing injustice and mistreatment everywhere he or she looks” (Psychology Today, July 10,2013). I suppose employers would say that a woman who has been raped is being overly sensitive by reporting the incident?
To make matters worse, the people who commit such uncivil acts fancy themselves as being “goody two shoes,” even in the face of the overwhelming evidence that indicates otherwise. The problem with the narcissist, is her impenetrable psychological wall that can not be breached. The key players in the toxic system are, conspirators, coconspirators, enablers, and lastly, victims, of whom which, suffer the most. Everyone else is allowed peace, tranquility, and the pleasure of enjoying their job. It is going to be difficult to legislate our way out of this problem without a change in the American Psyche.
After having been in the mental health professional for 20 years, I have yet to find an agency that operates with scruples. The experience might be similar to watching birds fly backwards. I surmise that this system of employment is not only known to mental health, but is vast and expansive in the American work force. I could site many examples such as the ones above from my work experience. There are too many for the purpose of this essay and they would require a book to contain them all. The heart of the matter is captured in the old Russian proverb, “the fish rots from the head down.”