At my workplace, I have recently been involved in a training day about dignity and respect at work. The policy itself is a lengthy piece of work, as you might imagine, and deals with all sorts of issues from harassment and bullying to discrimination and victimisation. During the training session – which was aimed at managers so we could identify and deal with issues as they might arise – it became obvious that there are many ways to insult people without even realising it. Certainly, since the training, my awareness of the issue has increased tenfold and now I really know why being nice matters. Appreciation and some happy thoughts can take you a long way.
“Snowflakes” and Appreciation
I can almost hear it now – and literally did in the training session – “people are too easily offended these days”.
Is this true? Perhaps. Is it a bad thing? Not at all. Why? Because everyone deserves to be happy and free from harassment.
It is easy to get confused about why people are offended about things that don’t, or “wouldn’t”, offend you. But in reality, you have no idea what it is like to live the life of that person. You might comment on their hair colour just once, but they might have heard it a dozen times already that day. Maybe they’ve been hearing about their hair colour for as far back as they can remember. Chances are, this person has been associated with their hair colour (of skin colour, or disability, or other mental or physical feature) for so long that it has taken an irreversible toll on their mental well-being.
Their “safe places” that you might criticize are actually important areas they can escape from the constant badgering of others.
Whilst I have become pretty much numb to it and think nothing of it now other than a minor nuisance, I have had people for all my life commenting on my height. Just the other day a carpenter came into my house and upon seeing me exclaimed how tall I was. Almost like I didn’t already know! If it were the first time I might almost be inclined to have a conversation about it. But it wasn’t the first time. It happens all the time – wherever I go. I’m not even the tallest person I know!
I don’t take much issue with it, but imagine if it wasn’t my height they commented on but my weight. Imagine a person who has struggled with losing weight all their life and is now constantly reminded about it by strangers on the street. Try having your beauty commented on continuously in the office by colleagues who objectify you. If you are honest with yourself, you would tire of it too.
Some people like to jump on the snowflake bandwagon too easily. Funnily enough, I find these people to be some of the biggest “snowflakes” when they have their views challenged. Easy to cling to notions of freedom of speech and the like. Well, I have some news for those people: freedom of speech is not freedom from repercussion. No one has to like what you have to say. And no one has to put up with it if they don’t want to.
The Ease of Negativity
During the training session I had at work, we were instructed to perform a task were we would categorise insults, sayings, and even memes on how offensive they were. There was also 7 protected characteristics which they might fit into – things like age, sex, race, etc. – as defined by the Equality Act 2010.
What was remarkable is that some of these phrases were not really insulting at all. One might, at a glance, understand how some could be annoying – such as the “would you like to get a drink with me?” But what about “can I walk with you?” or bending over to talk to someone? Are these things that could be considered harassment?
Obviously, there was missing context from a large portion of the sentences and words we had to play with. Some not so much – “tramp”, “whore”, “pizza-face”. But others left us slightly puzzled as isolated they might not be considered to be ‘bad’. After all, if no one was ever able to ask people out for drinks our population might be considerably lower!
It turned out that all the phrases we were unsure of had been featured in tribunal cases where the plaintiffs were awarded large sums of money for harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Several of the phrases we had worked with, relatively innocent on their own, had been used in conjunction – repeatedly and/or over a period of time – to harass or discriminate against individuals.
It was striking how situations can develop into real pain for people, often due to throwaway words.
Throughout the whole training and afterwards myself and my colleagues were deeply reflecting on ourselves and our own actions at work. Have I been unkind to others? Have I passed judgement on another unfairly? To my great sadness, the answer was yes.
We have all done it – but it does not make it feel any better. Even if the damage that was done was only minor, to make another person feel bad is not something I enjoy. All of the things I must have done over my life. It was so easy.
Let’s not forget that you can be mean to people indirectly as well! I talk, of course, of gossip. A trade we all indulge in from time to time. Comments about another person because of their perceived work ethic. Because of their habits. Feeding our own superiority complexes. I have written about this before – the self-delusion epidemic. It is alive and well in all of us.
A stray word to a friend here. An unguarded comment to a colleague there. The short-lived satisfaction of gossip. Some people crave it like they might a drug. But it is damaging to ourselves and others. Why do we do it? Because being negative is so easy. So damn easy.
Fight Back with Gratitude and Happy Thoughts
What can we do to stem this tide of negativity? How can we make others feel valued and treat them well? It’s all about showing dignity and respecting others. You must stop yourself when talking negatively about others (or yourself – but that is a topic for another post!).
Since the training, I am now much more aware of what I am saying. Some of my colleagues have even made a bit of a game of it – if another starts saying something that could be considered undignified to another we scream “DIGNIFIED” at them. Jokes aside, it is a great way to challenge others. And without being challenged, people will never change.
Some people have lamented that this new ‘trend’ means we can no longer have fun at work. No longer engage in banter with others. It simply isn’t true, however. You can still joke, laugh, and have fun with others. You just have to do it without being mean! If the Dalai Lama can laugh and joke with those he speaks with then we all can.
I challenge everyone reading this to go away and take care to catch themselves when speaking negatively of another. I want you to pay special attention to what you say to others, or about others, and how they might feel upon hearing it. How would you feel if it was said to or about you?
A good guideline is THINK. Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?
If it fails these criteria, then you probably shouldn’t say it.
Being nice to others, all of the time, matters. It matters because not only will it make you feel better in yourself, but it will make those around you happier and more willing to be your friend. Instead of pushing people away you will draw them in. Be kind so much that it becomes easy.
Let me know in the comments below how you get on with the challenge. Have you received similar training or have an opinion on this topic? Let me know below as well!