Our Bullying Culture


Seth Godin

Seth Godin

Seth’s Blog: Sure, but he’s our bully.

There have always been bullies among us, and it’s worth taking a moment to see how our culture has built a role for them to be useful heroes. Taught or not, bullying keeps showing up.

We often (for a while) view bullies as powerful or brave or important–as long as they are ourbullies. Richie Incognito, Chris Christie, Rob Ford—each has a long list of supporters, people who have defended a particular bully as a passionate man of the people, as doing their job, as the visceral anti-elite, winning a battle that’s worth fighting for.

This is an excellent piece by Seth Godin, one of my Top Five “deep thinkers” in strategic management and communications issues.  We talk so much, especially in the LGBT community in recent years, about bullying, the effects of bullying and the teen suicides caused, oftentimes, by bullying that we tend to think that bullying is something that won’t happen after we run the gauntlet that is high school.

In other words: it gets better.

Well, for many who are bullied, it does get better, but for others, the bullying continues. You, as an adult, may be a bully in your workplace whether you realize it or not. I was, in fact, shocked when a co-worker once told me that I had such a “forceful personality” that they wouldn’t want to contradict me for fear that they would be seen as potentially wrong.

I was shocked because I don’t have that view of myself at all. At heart, I’m still the very short, stocky, gay 11-year old with glasses who couldn’t hit the baseball worth a damn and who was picked last in gym class. How could I possibly be that person that others perceived me to be?

The truth is, it bothered me enough to change my management style; to make sure to be as inclusive as possible; to encourage others to render an opinion counter to my own, even if I am the “boss” in that situation. Simplistically, this is often reduced to “speaking truth to power” but there’s more to it than that.

Writes Godin:

In your organization, there are no doubt bullies who can win their point, increase their power and defeat their enemies. … But it’s pretty clear we can create organizations that don’t tolerate it, creating an environment where the bully is never the hero. We probably ought to try.

The more we all check ourselves and recognize bullying behavior in our adult lives, the easier it is for us to create a bully-free society for the next generations. Vying for a little less power might be a good thing.

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