About seven years ago I began a post with the statement I hate bullies. I really haven’t addressed the issue again over the years, although there have been opportunities to do so. A perfect opportunity to address it again came up this week with all the mess that involves my least favorite football team right now, the Miami Dolphins.
If I have to recap what this story is about at this juncture I’m just going to say that you’re out of touch and all you have to do is go to ESPN and see what’s mainly being talked about and you’ll get it pretty quickly. Suffice it to say, the major part of the story is how one player felt bullied and no one else, including the main guy doing the bullying, seemed to get it or recognize it. In fact, there hasn’t been a single apology from anyone this past week. There have been excuses and explanations and reverse blame, but not one person has said “I’m sorry.”
I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of bullying behavior as an adult but I have seen it. There was this one guy in NYC some years ago at a hospital I was consulting at who was an overbearing bully. His reason for being a bully was supposedly because his hospital was in trouble; in reality he was just a jerk. The same happened at another hospital a bunch of years ago and in his case the hospital was just coming out of being in trouble when he got there; by being a jerk, it’s in major trouble again.
The problem with bullies is twofold.
One, sometimes they actually think they’re doing some kind of good for someone, whether it’s the company, themselves, or everyone else. I’ve seen leaders who felt the best course of action was to find one person and beat them down consistently in front of everyone else, thinking that the action will spur others to perform properly; doesn’t work folks.
Two, it sets up a culture where everyone else gets into the game because no one wants to go against the bully for fear of becoming the next person to be bullied. No one likes that kind of attention constantly, which would explain why someone being bullied might try to act like he or she actually likes it. The hope is that the harassment will go away, will stop… how many victims of domestic violence have ever seen this behavior work for them?
This particular situation also took on an undertone or racism, and it seems to have been supported by the black players on the team, who supposedly granted this person the right to say things by making him “one of us.” The problem with allowing someone to be “one of us” is that they lose the ability to filter when they can or should not be “one of us.” I remember having to suddenly shut down certain things being said to me in the mid 70′s because of Richard Pryor, where it was initially funny in context and quickly wasn’t when people thought it was always funny to say; I’m glad that period didn’t last long. By the way, check out what former player Shannon Sharpe had to say about it:
As if this wasn’t bad enough things got even worse when it was reported that the player’s agent contacted upper management of the team to mention what was going on, and that person told the agent to have the player “punch the guy in the nose.” Can you imagine any employee going to HR to complain about their supervisor and being told to punch someone in the nose? Frankly, my emotional reaction often has been to want to punch someone in the nose, but how smart is that anyway?
Some people have said that this is another instance of wanting everything to be politically correct. I ask this question; what if the player had decided to handle his problem by bringing a gun into the locker room and shooting this guy & a lot of other people? Would that have been a question of political correctness as well? Hasn’t anyone learned yet that “an eye for an eye” in today’s world isn’t possible, because there will be escalation of some kind eventually?
The reason I never went out for a fraternity or pretty much any other group of that sort over the years was because I knew what might come if I tried. I was a military kid who used to see young soldiers doing that sort of thing amongst themselves. They’d always pick the one guy they thought might be the weak link and pick on that guy mercilessly. I knew I didn’t want to be a part of that, and I certainly didn’t want to be the guy picked on. Hazing, bullying… is there really a difference?
I don’t think bullying in general will ever go away; too many differences in humankind for that to ever happen. So I talk directly to leaders, those in charge of those who bully. You must always be vigilant in making sure that sort of thing isn’t happening within your area of responsibility. The workplace should always be a safe place for everyone. Kidding around is normal behavior, but there’s a point at which leaders need to guard against things starting to go too far.
When it gets personal, stop it.
When it gets political, or religious, stop it.
If it gets physical, you’ll know you were already too late. Don’t ever let it get to “already too late.”
To the Miami Dolphins, their players and their “leadership”… shame on you. Show some responsibility and accountability and change things now before someone else changes things for you.
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