I was recently a victim of bullying. I ended up hiding in a changing room cubicle and crying until the gang of women who had been unkind had gone. When I shared this experience on social media I got a message from someone who suspected her own daughter was bullying others. It’s very hard for people to actually admit to having been bullies.
Our sector collectively is not immune to engaging in bullying behaviours either. For instance, we can be desperately bitchy about one another behind people's backs and sometimes to each other's faces. After a speech I gave some years ago, a senior sector colleague, whom I had heard of but not met, said to me that even though he was one of the group of sector colleagues who disliked me he nonetheless agreed with what I’d said. It really hurt. I hadn’t realised there was a group!
And I’m not alone. We have all heard – and, if we’re being brutally honest, sometimes colluded with – folk being unkind about others. Ad hominem attacks are not uncommon, especially about those who are "names". I think it’s ok to criticise the policy, the position or even the values of a person – but personal attacks are just not a very grown-up strategy. In my experience they never change what the victim says or does.
The other way to bully is to exclude. Our sector is full of cliques – groups that start from the good place of folk having things in common, but can end up being self-referential exclusive "in groups". Speaking from experience, if you’re not in one of those groups it can be a horribly lonely and difficult sector to work in.
Having suffered from exclusion myself, I’m hyper aware of making sure we don’t do it at the Directory of Social Change. Throughout our history we have had a very diverse workforce, with, for example, people of devout faith who don’t drink, recovering alcoholics, carers, parents, folk struggling financially, people who are wary of loud, noisy spaces and so on. So we don’t ever have officially work-sanctioned parties or dos out of office hours or out of office space. We know that if we hold events such as our welcome parties (a bit like leaving dos only less tinged with sadness!) or festive celebrations during working hours at work, no one ever needs to feel excluded.
In fairness, I suspect that some of the excluding behaviours we exhibit in our sector are not deliberate or malicious. But I do think we could to be more sensitive to perceived outsiders, the ones who don’t appear to fit naturally into our "gang". We are all trying to serve our citizens and our communities, and even if we don’t agree on how best to do it at the very least we can agree that this is the gang we all belong to. Let’s not be mean to or about each other. Be kind about people, especially behind their backs. And don’t be the reason someone hides in a cubicle.
Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change