The dangers of crying ‘bully’

Bullying can be crappy, horrible, terrible, debilitating. Sometimes it is clear cut and obvious, but it can also be subjective, and bullying can easily be perceived as such when it is closer to over-expressive leadership, and even of being a justified bollocking.

Listener (Noted):  Maggie Barry and the dangers of crying ‘bully’

It was easy to applaud the advent of #MeToo. The felling of atrocious tyrants, such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the drunken, groping New Zealand legal titans who were revealed as serial sex pests, was long overdue. There has been a welcome global consciousness-raising.

There has been overdue attention given to despicable behaviour.

But as this era of atonement for workplace bullying matures, its fine print is proving divisive. The recent inquiry into police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha’s conduct and allegations against MP Maggie Barry show a lot of on-the-job conflict is rather more nuanced and debatable than the headline #MeToo cases.

I don’t know how nuanced either of those situations was, but they are certainly debatable, especially with the absence of much evidence.

Haumaha’s career was called into question because three staff in his unit didn’t like the way he spoke to them. A QC’s enquiry has found no evidence of bullying, but a robust leadership style. Barry stands accused of bullying two former staff by such actions as swearing in front of them, teasing them and saying disparaging things about other people.

As far as I’m aware the jury is still out in both these cases.

It’s straightforward to diagnose such things as violence, threats, groping and sexual extortion as abusive. The older #MeToo grows, the more amazed we’ll be in retrospect about how much of it society has tolerated and excused.

But, speaking tersely, swearing, bantering, tantrums, sniping behind colleagues’ backs – are these necessarily bullying? They’re generally undesirable, and in quantity can become abusive, but in occasional doses, such behaviour is normal and human.

If people are going to start informing on each other, or as with Barry, covertly taping for such transgressions, we risk creating another form of workplace danger: a low-trust environment.

Worse than that – it risks over-embellished accusations, hit jobs and revenge attacks.

The allegations against Barry seem well short of the sort of mistreatment #MeToo was conceived to root out.

As for personal remarks, such as Barry’s likening a staffer’s attire to that seen in The Great Gatsby, one person’s affectionate teasing is another’s hectoring sarcasm. We cannot reform human nature. Teasing, and even its ruder cousin, banter, is often a sign of deep affection and a way of signalling mutual trust. A little gossip can be team-building. These things can morph into bullying, but are we seriously considering outlawing them as inherently dangerous?

Banter one day could be perceived as bullying the next, depending on the mood and the situation. Too much ‘banter’ can become bullying.

Parliament’s timely inquiry into its bullying is justified by the serious transgressions of MP Jami-Lee Ross and former minister Meka Whaitiri. But there’s a danger of our getting to the stage where just crying “bully!” is enough to blight someone’s career, and for that suspension of doubt to be misused out of spite. Not all workplace interactions can be positive and nurturing. High-pressure situations cannot always be gentled with pleases and thankyous. And it’s not abusive to tell a staffer their work isn’t good enough.

It’s easier (and human) to allege bullying than concede and accept ‘I was crap’.

Workplace safety can surely be protected without outlawing many manifestations of the human personality, or holding that feeling slighted is proof of abuse. We need simply to treat others as we’d like to be treated, and have the wit and empathy to notice if our tone or humour isn’t well received.

Sometimes relationships turn to crap, in workplaces as well as in homes.  It is easy for for behaviour that had once been acceptable to become intolerable.

All of us can at times overstep the banter line.

We need to be careful we don’t overstep the line of acceptable behaviour into dumping on anything someone else says they don’t like.

This is a particular problem in politics where it is common to exaggerate things for devious political motives.

We should expect reasonable and professional behaviour from our MPs and public servants, but we should also not cry ‘bully’ when it isn’t justified.

If we get too picky and too sensitive and too intolerant of normal human behaviour then we will take our eye off the important ball – the serious cases of harassment and assault and bullying that deserve proper investigation, and condemnation when proven.

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33 Comments

  1. Ray

     /  December 9, 2018

    You only have to watch a certain Green supporter who in his earlier working profession honed his passive aggressive skills to a fine edge.
    Any hint of displeasure of this behaviour is called as bullying .
    If you want to see real bullying check out “The Standard” and how they have treated PG over the years.

    Reply
  2. duperez

     /  December 9, 2018

    The jury’s out on a lot of cases.

    One thing to strike me is the differentiation between physical, verbal and emotional aspects of what some call bullying.

    The most heinous example of bullying to some was the behaviour of Meka Whaitiri with alleged physical handling of a staff member. (she challenges elements of the situation.)
    Because there was a discernible mark on the ‘victim’ Whaitiri is for the chop.

    Was that mark more serious and more an indication of grave damage than those claiming bullying of non-physical types? And those telling complainants in the Barry cases to toughen up, did they tell Whaitiri’s ‘victim’ to toughen up?

    I appreciate the nuances of defining what it is all about in complex relationship situations and the ease of describing a physical grab of the crotch as serious and ignoring the metaphorical savage kicking in the cobblers.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  December 9, 2018

      No. But there is a type of non-violent bullying that is characterised by it’s continual, unpleasant, vicious nature and (eventually) obvious intent to cause the victim psychological damage, anxiety and fear & to drive them out of the workplace. The problem is working out where that is happening – and that is where any investigation that reveal a fairly significant number of people at work being prepared to confirm this is what they believe was happening is a strong indication of actual psychological bullying. Especially if it has been directed at particular individuals over claimed mistakes or errors that are debatable or commonplace, or work that actually appears to be up to standard.

      Reply
  3. Kitty Catkin

     /  December 9, 2018

    Although everyone was drinking at Russell McVeagh, it has become drunken satyrs leaping on and groping helpless women victims. This does women no favours, making us seem like children who are incapable of knowing when we have drunk too much and being unable to defend ourselves.

    Reply
  4. Gezza

     /  December 9, 2018

    You have to wonder sometimes how much of this is just knickers in a knot stuff by snowflakes.

    None of us has to fear going into an NZ consulate and getting bullied into little bloody pieces – do we?

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  December 9, 2018

      There’s a danger of people who make complaints looking like petulant children. The Great Gatsby remark was not worth someone’s getting their tits in a tangle over, surely.

      Reply
    • Mother

       /  December 9, 2018

      I don’t like the term ‘bullying’ being used in adulthood. It smacks of childish playground antics which people haven’t grown out of. It may always be the case that the egoistic personalities in hierarchical situations hurt others. I think that we need to teach/allow our children critical thinking. That way, NZers will grow out of passive aggressiveness. We need some growing up.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 9, 2018

        I agree, it infantilises both parties. Abuse is too strong, though.

        As even animals have hierachies and pecking orders, I think that it will never happen that humans don’t….look at Lord of the Flies, which is fiction, but may not be too far-fetched.

        I don’t like ‘survivor’ being used when the person was not in danger of losing their life, but can’t think of an alternative that isn’t pompous or PC. I even saw ‘flood survivor’ on the news when the flood endangered nobody and didn’t kill anyone, it was just a real nuisance as it flooded houses. Calling someone a survivor was ridiculous.

        Reply
        • Mother

           /  December 9, 2018

          Agreed.

          I’m a survivor, and that’s not ridiculous. I think that the future for individuals within community is a battle for the mind. The mind is the last frontier. When psychological abusers go for the jugular, they attack the mind. Psychological abuse is rampant in NZ. Physical abuse in families stems from it. Niggles in work places come from the same source.

          I can’t help it – I just have to mention Jesus. There are many Jesus’ now days, even in the churches. Each person can find the real Jesus by using their mind, if they want to of course.

          NZ has a problem with wannabe victims. I hope we grow out of it quickly. We have a great future. I would like to know that I played my part in keeping NZ ticking along within our Christian heritage until Jesus returns.

          Openly expressing my hope in Jesus Christ makes me appear foolish I know. But my conscience will not be clear for my life unless I boldly name my Lord.

          Do wannabe victims have a clear conscience? Wouldn’t they rather stand firm in the truth? You don’t even need to know Jesus in order to practise truth. But it is heaps easier to walk in the truth within a nation of Christian heritage than anywhere else.

          We only need a few ‘fools’ for Christ. I’m one and it is the best fun. An inkling that God is actually watching us does encourage the practise of common sense.

          I detest the paganism which is in the churches. Sad churches in NZ have more to answer for regarding our problems than most people realise.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  December 10, 2018

            I’m not convinced that Christianity will grow again in any real way in NZ because it is continually shrinking now. That said, Christianity as practiced by gentle people with tolerant, forgiving natures & moral standards such as truthfulness, honesty, compassion, marital fidelity, generosity etc, is something that is worthwhile in & beneficial to our communities.

            The difficulty I see with effecting a resurgence in Christianity is that a good, basic education quickly reveals much of the Bible to be untrue, unlikely & unproveable – thus its basic beliefs are odds with science & reality.

            The Bible is a collection of ancient scriptures, none of which were written contemporaneously with the events the purport to record. Do you mind me asking, Mother, how much of the Bible do you believe to be true?

            For example – do you believe the universe/heavens & earth & the first man & woman were created exactly as described in Genesis?

            That there really was a Tower of Babel following which all different languages originated?

            That there was a global flood & that Noah took on board a boat with the measurements described, two of every creature on the earth where they survived for a year before the flood receded?

            Off to bed. Interested in your answers.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  December 10, 2018

              ‘Christianity as practiced by gentle people with tolerant, forgiving natures & moral standards such as truthfulness, honesty, compassion, marital fidelity, generosity etc, is something that is worthwhile in & beneficial to our communities.’

              not many of these around as far as I can see.

              Some of the biggest liars,thieves and selfish koonts purport to be Christians…I guess they can have their sins absolved.

            • Gezza

               /  December 10, 2018

              @ Blazer

              not many of these around as far as I can see

              No. There are some, but you will find them in organisations like the Sallies. And many other Christians who seem to be good people like that, only behave this way towards people in their own church, not to outsiders.

              That’s been my experience.

            • Mother

               /  December 10, 2018

              Hi Gezza and Blazer,
              I sort of promised God I would only blog on Sundays – but you asked me questions!
              Firstly, I am not being evasive when I say I have little time, but yes I think I could find compelling scientific ‘evidence’ (what’s that really?) to explain in scientific terms that there really was Noah’s flood, there really was the tower of Babel event etc. This is not my area of expertise however, and you can seek those answers for yourselves.
              I do believe the Bible, but how exactly is not available within my life to study in a way I could explain properly. If I could go back to youth, I would study Greek and Hebrew and history. Even if I knew the answers to my mind, to give you definitive answers I doubt they would be satisfying to you (that’s a good thing).
              I agree with Blazer that the nicest ‘Christian’ living people are generally not found in the churches. I just hope NZers can keep this up. However, I am certain that if Churches’ open voice dies away, NZ will be in deep trouble.
              I’m not being evasive when I talk about the ‘churches’ and Church either. These were the use of capitals I adopted when I was being treated by the churches as though there is no belonging for me within either heaven or community (accepting please that my life choice is to believe in Jesus Christ who is the head of the Church and who does dwell in heaven with the Father and whom I have accepted to be my Saviour).
              Reading scripture really works for me. It keeps me safe. The churches’ hatred made me feel near crazed. I’m safest out, longing to be in, knowing that my country will be safest sticking with Christianity. It is quite a riddle. Where’s the line between feeling near crazed and fun with safety in your own truth? For me, that line is drawn by my Good Shepherd.
              We need really good Bible teachers in NZ – academically sound, people who understand equality and whom themselves walk the talk. Presently, I only see two extremes – the ones who put people off because they don’t know what they believe and so get blown around by extreme leftest politics, and the ones who put people off because they are SO RIGHT. These people are bordering on becoming as aggressive as the power hungry. I think it is because they have forgotten that they are basically wrong actually, like me. This is the reason why they miss what God wants to do – which is to strengthen Church. This can only happen as we grasp the concept of equality.
              We need Bible teachers who search and grapple for truth.
              I can hardly believe the nonsense within the churches. Their sins are not absolved Blazer. It’s difficult for me because I am one who loves to trust. Everywhere I look, I see people who seem like they’re worth trusting. It is very Kiwiana. How bad has it become when the moderate feel the need to fight for moderation? That’s the negative way of looking at our political situation. The positive way to look at this is the fact that only love wins through in the moderation stakes, and God is Love.

            • MaureenW

               /  December 10, 2018

              The Tower of Babble comes to mind.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  December 10, 2018

          I agree we need a better word, Kitty, and I can’t think of one either. Perhaps something along the lines of Vindicated or Affirmed?

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  December 10, 2018

            We really need a noun, and I cannot think of anything.

            Yours don’t take into account people who DIY.

            Reply
  5. Blazer

     /  December 10, 2018

    religion appears to be a business to me…many brands,all offering their own…USP.

    Reply
    • Mother

       /  December 10, 2018

      Oh well, I’m not selling anything and I never had a brand of Christianity even though I was with the PCANZ and the Anglicans all my life. Now it’s not feasible for me to try out any of the other brands. My purpose was to hold my head above water and I was given that opportunity by YourNZ. I was sort of surprised, but mostly just relieved that trust is still alive.

      Reply
      • Pickled Possum

         /  December 10, 2018

        Mother you are selling something … apparently something that doesn’t work for you.
        Christianity for sale going cheap at half the price. To believe in one of the many churches of today is like stepping into a political economic quagmire. Brian Tamali is he going to do good in the prisons 2000 born again christians say YES but the rest of the country says at what cost.

        Reply
    • Gezza

       /  December 10, 2018

      It relies almost entirely on confirmation bias by its adherents.

      Reply
      • Mother

         /  December 10, 2018

        We all notice you’re taking an interest Maureen.

        PP – Christianity works for me 100% and I have a different take on the ‘born again’ concept than the likes of Brian Tamati. I personally am sick of the shallowness with Christianity in NZ.

        Do we really need for Christianity to be persecuted in NZ in order for fellowship within Church here to become genuine worship of Jesus Christ? I hope not.

        Just keep living your Christian like lives to the best of your abilities. Perhaps it will be viewed by God as enough to show Him that we depend upon His goodness.

        As for me, I am born again and that will not change. There are others like me in this.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  December 10, 2018

          I can respect that, Mother. It seems to me that you try to be a good person, that this comes from your empathy and humanity, and that you have sought out those aspects of the Bible and Christianity and personal experiences that resonate strongly with you & placed your experience of the world into that context.

          Others get to the same place with Buddhism. The strongest, most self-assured, calmest, most loving of mankind person I ever met was a quiet well-built, very handsome, happily married, bespectacled man with a lovely wife & two children, with a disarming drawl, who had immigrated from California & whom I encountered and worked with in my first year with the public service.

          He told me he was a Baha’i. A faith I’d never even heard of.

          Whatever makes people considerate and genuinely righteous, also wise and cautious, is what matters. A hereafter or not is immaterial to me.

          Reply
          • Pickled Possum

             /  December 10, 2018

            Barry Crump was a Bahai … a whisky drinking, cannabis smoking womanising humble straight shooting man. His early life with a violent angry father also had a lot to do with how he shaped his life. Religion for all intents is what you make of it. Is Christianity a stone age culture?

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  December 10, 2018

              No. It’s Bronze and Iron Age in origin. Much of the ritual is pagan-like where there is ritual. And much of the history and beliefs of the Otld Testament of the Bible is Stone Age myth.

            • PartisanZ

               /  December 10, 2018

              If all religion is stuck irrevocably in the time it was ‘founded’ we are in big trouble … because religious ideals are not things separate from Life but are ‘spiritualized philosophy’ IMHO … and hence essentially Life itself …

              Jesus’s “Love they neighbour as thyself” or “Do unto others …” and Kant’s “Treat others as you would have them treat you” are the same …

            • Pickled Possum

               /  December 10, 2018

              In the begining there was Adam and Eve … thrown out of Paradise..
              fast forward to Moses with the Rulez of God …On a Stone … looks like Christianity was here before Maori … I wonder if Maori were oart of the Tower of Babel? God said Don’t worry bout a thing cause every little gonna alright … IF you put your trust in me … dont fight the battles He will do it for you Mother.He already knows the outcome ..
              It is His design He is the architect of ALL THINGS. Trust in Him not the bricks that make up churches.

        • MaureenW

           /  December 10, 2018

          Nope not so much interested, more amused. I did ask you, the day you started banging on about religion (not a Sunday either, God will be cross), whether you were going to bomb every thread with this nonsense?
          To me, you are not credible; more likely a bored mischief-maker.

          Reply
          • Mother

             /  December 10, 2018

            What is it with you Maureen, that you are so cynical? Did you try to understand my guest post? Surely a woman could understand the difficulties I expressed (as per PG’s invite.)
            You are sounding very like the cruel church people whom caused a life time of trouble for me.
            This particular thread is about the dangers of crying re ‘bullying’.
            Yes, it is VERY dangerous. Sadly, because of childishness, our thoughts and activities get tied up with wannabe victims. Meanwhile, abuse and corruption goes unchecked, wreaking havoc.
            Keep talking Maureen. I want to see if you’re made of truer and kinder stuff than my abusers. It’s important for me to know how my country folk sit with Christianity.
            Frustratingly, I don’t have time to watch for responses. I’ll check this thread next Sunday God willing.
            Blogging is tricky, like texting. Nuance is easily lost. I would love to meet you Maureen. I’m not a bored trouble maker. I’m a busy mother caught up with wondering about the future for my descendants. If I didn’t have children, I think I would be caring and wondering about the future for other people’s children. I’m not banging on about religion. I’m seeking common sense from my countrymen.

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  December 10, 2018

              What you are seeking is not always very clear, Mother, but as far as I am concerned your integrity is. I can’t see why Maureen would believe otherwise.

  6. PartisanZ

     /  December 10, 2018

    I find it interesting that following on from the myriad self-improvement, personal growth and human potential movements begun in the 60s and 70s, which survive one way or another to this day – some highly corporatized – we arrive at a place where the ‘group dynamics’ and personal interactions at some of our most cherished, old, status-quo institutions appear to be “failing” the individuals ’employed’ or ‘serviced’ by them … Parliament, School, The Legal Industry, some or much Big Business … no doubt some Government Depts and no doubt many small-medium sized workplaces … and probably NGOs as well …

    Who ever would have guessed this might happen, huh!?

    Patriarchies and hierarchies suit masters, servants and slaves …

    IMHO what a significant number of people want nowadays is Work/Life Integration, not separation into Work/Life Balance … and this will profoundly affect workplaces as it will learning institutions … Profoundly affect them for the better, eventually … although there may be entirely ‘rational’ so-called ‘negative’ impacts on ‘productivity and efficiency’ … [although some research indicates happier workers are automatically more efficient] …

    Never were TOPs four ‘C’s more needed: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking … add ‘Civics’ to that IMHO …

    Perhaps this “bullying” is a disguised threshold to the doorway of more quality work/learning rather than quantity work/learning?

    The savings may not be seen in each workplace directly, but tangentially in communal savings on stress-related illness & mental illness, less sick days, fewer accidents, less commuting etc etc et al …

    Reply

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