Guest Post: Civility in the Face of Bullying

The following is a guest post by Jay Remer, known across Canada as The Etiquette Guy.

Bullies seem to rule the world today. Thanks to the abuse of power that fuels their egos, society feels the heavy burden of injustice and discrimination on many levels. There is little or no time set aside for dialogue or discussion. Every day we see news headlines demonstrating this sorry and frightening state of affairs. The rhetoric of fear used by today’s leaders to gain and maintain control over their employees and constituents has led many of us to step out of the fray and become bystanders. This is exactly what helps perpetuate the culture of bullying that is so prevalent.

Now is the time to stand up to bullies and take action. If we put ourselves in other people’s shoes to understand what it feels like to work in an environment where the deck is stacked in favor of aggressiveness, to feel oppressed, and to carry these feelings back to our homes and families, we would understand why we become frozen and unable to know how to make things better.

I have written about The Golden Rule and Common Sense for many years. We are inching closer and closer towards an Emotion Revolution, when we will understand how feelings drive our behavior and injustice will no longer be tolerated. A time when we understand that diversity, inclusion, and equality are essential to living the fulfilling life we all deserve – as a right, not as a privilege.

The question arises – what steps can we take to make that change? How do we go about moving from the awkward and uncomfortable position of the bystander into the role of resister and activist? Naturally, most of us are reticent to take on such a mantel for fear that we will lose our job, our friends, and even our families.

These changes must begin at home where our support systems are usually the strongest. As we build foundations of trust within the family, we can continue them into our communities. At work, leaders must understand that their employees’ engagement and productivity is dependent upon the support they are provided.

High-stress jobs, such as the armed services (including the RCMP), health care, and education, require far more support than they presently receive. We have all heard the old argument: that people who enter these professions should know ahead of time that the jobs are high stress. This argument does not mean that appropriate support is not essential. 

No one is going to argue that first responders and others are very susceptible to PTSD. For those of you unfamiliar with living with this painful condition, I can assure you that the agony endured on a daily basis is at time unbearable, hence the hundreds of suicides victims commit annually. Psychological and physical support must be improved and increased significantly to realize any real improvement. The change needs to be systemic; the old band-aid approach no longer is sufficient.

Most of us have experienced or have friends who have experienced difficult situations at work. These difficulties can take on a whole range of manifestations, none of which are enviable. What we can do about these issues is found within the Six Pillars of Civility, a framework I have devised that incorporates the essential life principles needed to create and maintain a sustainable and healthy society and a psychologically safe and fair workplace.

Our elected officials and corporate leaders must take the lead and be held to the highest standards. Inclusivity should be the goal of any healthy organization, where diversity is valued and recognized as an engine for creativity and innovation and is an automatic part of any workplace.

I was criticized lately for a stance I took on the radio about equality. I stated that I was baffled by the need to have such discussions anymore. Not everyone agrees with me, nor does everyone believe equality is realistic or appropriate. Some early scientific studies suggest that men and women have clearly differing skill sets, thus justifying such companies as Google to hire a widely disproportionate number of men for programming and other high-tech jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The work currently being carried out at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence provides quite a different and enlightened understanding of the subject. If we are to achieve cultural changes within organizations, we must treat everyone equally and with respect. Our communications must be honest and open. Remember the etiquette rule espoused by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where he advises us to never speak ill of someone not present to defend him or herself. 

Human beings have many more shared qualities than divergent ones. While both are essential, focusing solely on our differences allows us to fall into the trap of tossing out the baby with the bathwater. I suggest that we must refocus our attention on positive virtues, on encouraging others to achieve their best with the support required for the job at hand, and on insisting, either vocally or by the written word, that fairness must replace bias; that humility must replace bullying; and that honesty and civility must replace the distractions, diversions, and denials that allow bullies to run the show. The time to begin is now – first with us, then with our families, our community and our places of work. Imagine what a different world we would be leaving our children and grandchildren!

Illustration credit: Mike Shapiro/For Capital Business