The Bully Hole

The speech is written, but the accompanying slides are mere concepts at this point. Something has happened to halt the completion of the project. There is now an overwhelming presence from an almost ideal illustration of the topic of my speech. Its arrival has just ruined everything. If someone were to dream up a metaphor for my topic, they couldn’t begin to achieve the magnificence of this real-life example. It’s such an over…well, I’ve already used ‘overwhelming’ so let’s say very strong personification of the topic of the speech that alters the context and distorts every discussion of it into a political argument.

My first introduction to the issue of anti-bullying activism was back in 2005 when I was chairperson of the Gender Issues and Social Justice Committee of my faculty union. As a gay rights activist I was quite familiar with the topic. We published several emails informing people about the general topic of workplace bullying. It did little to change anything at the time, but the discussion had begun. There was no satisfying solution to the bully problem to give people, so things just sat around. There isn’t a solution now either, but the insights gleaned about how institutions are structured to protect the bully still astonishes me. I won’t go into this any more than to warn folks that the Social Equity (or equivalent) office at your workplace is there to protect the bosses and the institution, not the worker. They will put on a facade of caring and empathy, but that is mostly a mask. I plan for my next book to be about bullying.

Anyway, this Trump guy is the best example of a bully ever. You’d think this would be a godsend to someone speaking about bullies, but it’s not. Every mention of the man is political. Hiring a person to speak on the topic of workplace bullying is not something a business is thrilled about in the first place so any hint of political advocacy (especially anti-republican) would kill the gig. I’d have better luck doing pro-gonorrhea speeches.

If the speech were to be given as it is written, the audience would be distracted by the orange-headed elephant in the room anyway; he’s too obvious. If the speech is re-written to include him, he would dominate the event and that wouldn’t necessarily help workers deal with bullies. Workers need to address this issue in a very intimate way and that can’t happen when everybody jumps to thinking of a presidential bully. His presence in the discussion obscures the vile nature of an attack by a bully at work. He turns the topic into a cartoon of the issue so that you can’t convey the depth of devastation a bully inflicts.

A bullied person is humiliated by the situation, so you can’t just have a cartooned, purple-caped Batman nemesis to represent ‘the bully’; that makes things worse. Bullies always have the upper hand and they are intent upon destruction. The targeted worker is often innocent and unaware of what’s happening until late in the process. If you compare this bully’s assault with all its emotional impact, to the media-class antics of a clown/bully like Trump you will go too far beyond the worker’s reality. Bullied workers are experiencing the biggest, undeserved slap-in-the-face of their lives. It has nothing to do with politics or world events; it’s just the worker in the workplace. That tiny social environment where they spend eight hours a day, where many of their expectations and self-conceptions are made, where everything they knew to be true has suddenly been flipped upon its head. This is personal.

One of the problems a speaker has teaching about bullying is that everyone already believes they know what it is. He (not she?) is the coonskin-cap-wearing redhead with the mossy wire braces who beats up Ralphie in A Christmas Story, right? Well, no. Some children who bully may behave like that, while adult bullies tend to be smart and sophisticated in their subtlety. They are patient plotters who use strategy and time to their advantage. They persuade co-workers and bosses to their side of things. They manipulate circumstances behind the scenes and remain hidden even after the target is gone. They are wily and wicked and often they are motivated by envy and feelings of inferiority.

The bully’s target is usually innocent of misbehavior and often good at their job. The target makes friends easily and gets along with others. The bully becomes enraged at the ease with which the target fits in, and excels at the job and at life in general. They target this person for imagined revenge and seldom let up unless caught or the target leaves. Many bullies are serial bullies, they move from one target to the next.

I’d prefer to have my audience conceive of the bully as Shakespeare’s Iago rather than Batman’s The Penguin, but look who’s stealing the show. His “act” includes the school-yard bully caricature all grown up into a used car salesman. His splashy act is for show, to misdirect everyone from the sneaky Iago-like stuff he does behind the scenes. For me, the spectacle steals focus while the serious job of instruction is left floundering.

It’s like the backhoe digging a bully hole outside a first grade classroom window, are the kids paying attention to the teacher?  If the Principal is the one driving the tractor, how do you explain to the kids that what he’s doing is wrong, without diminishing the office of ‘Principal’? It diminishes the school and the teacher and the students and the whole community.

Any Thoughts?