What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?
Nearly all of the bad things in the world arise from a sense of fear. Fear shuts down conversations, closes off friendships, fuels bullying and drives almost 100% of U.S. business, work, society, education, and yes — foreign policy (as heinous as it is). The policy of leadership in any of these environments is “terrorize first lest ye be terrorized.” Elites pride themselves on learning and executing various time-honored (harassment, bullying, silencing, isolating) and emerging (algorithms, invitation-only platforms, limited access) ways to shut others out, put them down, and dominate them.
Thing is: it’s not about “them”. It’s about you.
Do you really care if you got invited to Clubhouse or its successors/competitors? I know people who are honored by such invites. They’re excited to sit around listening to some self-obsessed semi-celebrity drone on and on in a “private room.” From what I’ve heard, some “reporters” are spending their time lurking in such rooms to catch notables in verbal abuse/slipups.
Yes — it’s true that many people with a publically progressive persona are in reality, horrible people behind the scenes who say and do hateful things continuously. Some of them are entrepreneurs like Dan Price.
Some of them are social entrepreneurs like my former boss, the founder of now-defunct, but at one time highly-lauded Los Angeles homelessness and social services organization, Beyond Shelter.
This isn’t about her, Price, or any other semi-celebrity entrepreneur, from moderate-level semi-millionaire to a girlfriend-stalking billionaire.
It’s about me. It’s about you. It’s about us.
I look about the same now, ten years later, as I did during the demise of Beyond Shelter as a charitable organization. That’s because this job was so stressful it prematurely aged me. I was by far the longest-lasting person in my position (fundraising/development). Most people hired before me — and there were none after, because I had to facilitate the organization’s merger with the Los Angeles PATH organization and leadership transition before I resigned —
Here I was in my 40s, what a decade. I had a baby born with Down Syndrome who died at age 6 months when his father put him down with a bottle unsupervised. I became a corner-office charitable executive on Wilshire Blvd. in downtown Los Angeles. My boss stood by me when this horrible tragedy occurred on my second day at work — but I think perhaps this way she earned my loyalty for years was also the secret to my long tenure at Beyond Shelter. —
Bullies, narcissists, abusers, and exploiters like to surround themselves with weak people. And I’m positive that after Lali died and I was falsely charged (completely falsely — the record is expunged) with causing his death, I was about as weak as I’ve been as an adult.
So anyway, yes I had a “good job” in the world’s eyes. And over time, I think I did a “good job” with this good job.
Anyone who’s been in any charitable venture where any amount of money or public recognition is involved, and at times, even when there’s little money involved, too, knows that the industry attracts a certain type of person who wants to assume leadership. Common qualities include:
Insensitive (to others)
It took me many years to understand that this type of person wasn’t insensitive in the sense they didn’t perceive others’ emotions. They were insensitive in the sense that they either a) enjoyed; b) were indifferent to; or c)perceived and cultivated personal benefit from others’ suffering, discomfort, and pain.
This type of “leader” or boss purposely takes pleasure in and uses the natural, normal emotions of others who lack these traits (i.e. non-sociopathic, non-narcissistic humans) to enforce their subservience and control their behavior.
So one of the big learning curves of my life was working six years for somebody like this, and, being who I am, staying there for the following reasons:
Steady pay (though I ended up going without pay for three months, natch)
Daughter needed support
Coworkers depending on me
I did actually try to get other, better jobs in what were likely (possibly) less difficult environments. But I was working for a person who had a reputation in the city — and not a “good” one. I estimate about a third of the private donors who agreed to give funds did so on the condition they would not have to directly speak with my boss. I’m not the only person who thought of her as a “tiny terror.”
And then there were 100 other employees and I became responsible as the person who was getting the money to meet their payroll.
The stress of daily emotional upsets, constantly-changing priorities, and the constant gaslighting, scapegoating, and 3–4 hour management team meetings put countless miles on me, my blood pressure went way up (not as high as my boss’ though — one time she kept me on at work by showing me MRI scans of a frightening-looking brain with some type of lesions or marks — I came to wonder — was it hers at all? Or another person’s?).
How bad was this situation? As I noted, I and a very few others were long-time employees, each in our own way developing a way to cope — so
Dozens were terminated
Yelling went on daily
Pretty much everyone was publically humiliated
CFO had a heart attack (demanded to do impossible or unethical things)
Numerous medical leaves
So one day I was sitting there doing a program budget for homeless families and I entered the case manager salaries at what they were, $32,000 a year.
I myself was trying to scrape up any/all funds from any source to meet current payroll.
But I’m not a totally stupid person — however, I can be really slow — so I looked at this budget and thought, “The homeless people have more money to themselves than our case managers do — “
So I steeled myself and walked over to my boss’ office at the opposite corner of the floor and asked, “could we talk about something serious?”
She made time later. I sat down and showed her the budget and told her what I had realized about the employee pay compared to the homeless program recipients. “The homeless people have …”
And she started to scream incoherently at me.
I didn’t scream back (some of us did) but that was the moment that I decided. It didn’t matter what else happened, I had to leave.
At the time I didn’t consciously know or coherently comprehend any of what just wrote. I just knew that this was the moment I had “had it.”
Not long after that, my comrade Max came in (she too had come to an accommodation with our boss and joined the Beyond Shelter longterm survival corps) and said, “___________ (our boss) wants me to take up a collection for her birthday present.” And that was the straw that broke Max’s back.
So if you didn’t think the salary screaming story (why pay them more, who cares if they can’t get by while the homeless people can) was bad, I’m willing to bet you’ll “get” buy me a birthday present, you employees that I do not give raises to, who make $32,000 a year. Looking our long-suffering, totally amazing receptionist in the eye after I realized this … yeah … horrible.
So I started reading. I got this book called Bad Leadership and found out what category our boss fit into. The author (an individual to whom I have written but unlike Pulitzer and National Book Award winners and other scholars, doesn’t think I’m important enough to respond to … and I realized that the book uses the example of the Somalian conflict for Bill Clinton’s ‘bad leadership’ — uh, yeah, a few other exemplars as well Harvard lady) also mentioned that it was important for there to be good followers.
To be a good follower requires courage, Harvard lady wrote. Yeah sure — I knew what courage was. I was able to pick up and move forward after being raped my senior year of college. When Anthony died, I was back to work the second day. I had also worked right up to the day I gave birth for my daughter and my son. I remembered the lessons in character and strength from my grandfather.
I read this book and others on leaders and what to do if a leader was leading everyone to destruction. Nobody’s life was at risk (sort-of — our CFO had been hospitalized with a heart attack). I thought about the situation with Hitler in Nazi Germany. Because only WW2 buffs generally study history and it’s not covered in school and only fitfully in TV shows or movies, most people don’t know that there were over 25 attempts on Hitler’s life. German military personnel as diverse as Erwin Rommel (forced to commit suicide) and Claus Von Stauffenberg (executed) tried to stop Hitler. A brief overview of the main Nazis and the type of people they were shows that they were all — not just Hitler — beyond “bad bosses”. Each were some type of horrific sociopath or psychopath. Non-sociopaths like Von Stauffenberg and Rommel and over 20 others did make attempts to stop them — and failed.
So I get it. It’s very difficult to get up to the level of courage required to quit a bad job whether it’s a $15/hour job at Amazon.com or a 6-figure job at a big charity or an even higher paying job at a tech giant like Apple or Google.
And I felt responsible. People came to me with their problems. I was literally bringing the money that was paying them. Lots of people would be out of work … people might lose their homes.
What a dilemma.
So yes, I eventually solved these concerns for myself and others. I also didn’t do it alone. We received help from an important funding organization and others on the management team pitched in. Things — eventually — worked out for all concerned. The situation with my boss is one of the few times I’ve ever completely torched a bridge in my adult life: but it was the only way a solution for everyone could be found. Otherwise the ship was going to sink with everyone’s jobs and homes with it.
So recently, we have read how Apple has scores of homeless people camped out by its palatial, idyllic campus in Cupertino yet the trillion-dollar company not only does nothing, it won’t even work with the city to solve the problem. A former Google employee has written that she had left the company’s employ after making complaints about a supervisor’s harassment and inappropriate gender-biased treatment. In her words, “I’ll never love a job again.”
You can look at my legacy blog and find 20 years of words written about “Culture of Abuse.” I have always associated personal abuse in the home/family with abuse on the job, in education, and in our society.
But I never — until recently — associated my personal journey with something that younger people should think about, or realized that now that we can communicate more fully and completely with each other, this is not only possible, it is essential for forward evolution in our society and economy —
Every non-sociopath, no matter what our personality types and our personal circumstances, will help themselves more fully and effectively by following this journey toward personal courage and, coincidentally and necessarily, solidarity with others.
You know how if we’re sitting down and eating lunch, and we see someone else near us, we ask them to join us — if we’re decent people? How about sitting in a waiting room and there’s someone else there and we nod to them and acknowledge them and speak to them? Yes, of course!
OK, it needs to go beyond that.
Our own individual lives are not going to get better until we decide for ourselves that they are worth getting better. We need to, as individuals, decide that we are worthy of better treatment, from the amount we are paid for work to the places we live and raise our families, to the food we eat, the water we drink, and the society we live in.
Why isn’t Apple doing something about that homeless camp? Surely they have enough funds!
For the same reason my boss screamed at me when I reminded her that our organization’s employees were living harder lives than the homeless families they were supposed to be helping. For the same reason Google tolerates sex harassers and punishes complainers while providing a false work “paradise” and “family” and fake “prestige” for its employees.
Apple leadership are glad the homeless encampment is there because it serves as a reminder to their employees how LUCKY they are to be Apple employees and how EASILY they could end up in that camp. They do not care how high housing costs rise; in fact they are eager to continue to separate themselves physically from underlings. This reinforces the belief among their workforce that maybe, someday, the employees can claw their way to their exalted level.
People who rise to levels of high leadership in our culture are nearly universally like my bad boss. The best-case scenario is they are simply so narcissistic others accede to their wishes to keep them happy and to avoid trouble. The worst case scenario is they are fully sociopathic and enjoy the harm they cause to others. Some may even believe that the future outlook is so poor, anything and everything they do to others is completely justified. With millions of words of apocalyptic fiction and countless apocalyptic films/TV series — many people think that doomsday is right around the corner so why not grab anything and everything possible before time runs out?
Was my boss realistic and practical? Not in any way — she had little idea of what others genuinely thought of her and routinely made foolish, short-sighted, and poor management and financial decisions. She knew that many employees were afraid of her, but she blamed them, not any actions or behaviors of her own. She was so forceful, so single-minded, and so domineering that she was able to dominate and control through fear, whether of unpredictable behavior or yelling, or sudden termination, with or without cause.
As most of us know with common sense, people like my bad boss are very difficult to change.
So what does need to change? A lot of people are rethinking their lives as a result of COVID. Chances are, millions who had to work in hostile workplaces pre-COVID have had some relief because they are working at home.
The change first starts when we realize that they (the individual boss, the company, the organization) does not care about you (or us). Then what happens?
My husband went shopping at our WalMart a few months ago and asked the two men who work in the hardware department, “Can you help me find this part?”
“Why would we want to do that?” one responded.
The other added, “If we knew where things were, they’d just make us put things away.”
So this is partly a joke but partly a healthy and positive response to
WORKING AT WALMART
What the hell do you people expect when you have sat in a world, raised your children in a world, gone to work, eaten your food, lived, loved, and died in a world where no — you don’t matter! It’s by the Grace of God (or nature or luck if that’s what you believe) that you have your nice life, your nice home, your nice car, your nutritious food, your clean water, your green lawn, the street you live on, the lights that light it, that you did not catch COVID, that you did not die of COVID … that you do not live in a country that’s getting drone bombed for minerals or oil …
I did not like having to do what I had to do to help everyone exit Beyond Shelter as well as possible, with the least amount of disruption, job loss, and loss of home or assistance as possible.
But I did it.
It wasn’t easy to leave California and move to Florida either. But living here really beats being back in good old So Cal every month fearing more and more becoming homeless like those people in Cupertino who used to work in the tech industry and who now live in a tent.
But I did it.
No normal person likes to do any of the things that require having some guts and taking a chance like
Quitting a bad job
Starting a new business
Moving to a new town
Leaving a bad relationship
Quitting destructive habits
And then there’s the next step. What do we do next and how do we move the destructive, sociopathic, narcissistic people out of their harm-causing leadership roles and into less-destructive situations where — even they might be happier?
One start is making being a good person, doing good work, and being reliable, caring and responsible, pay. As in “cash money.” And by building companies in ways that pay the profits to the employees directly, i.e. employee-owned corporations. And — by instituting equitable and democratic systems at all levels of work.
And maybe by terminating people who scream at, harass, or otherwise harm good, responsible, normal employees.
I’m willing to bet that if those two guys at WalMart were paid $40 an hour instead of $11.50, and had actual job security, a decent workplace, and were able to support their families (or have a family at all) — they’d have answered a little differently. Maybe they would have immediately located the part for my husband. Or maybe not. ‘Cept the thing is, if they were sociopaths (I now know them) — they’d be the regional manager, not working in hardware at the local WalMart.
As workers, as employees, we’re all in a way “better” than people who take the benefit of our work (billionaires, investors, investment banks, stockholders) but most people think that wealthy or elites are “better” or have done something to merit their status or money. There’s really only two ways people get into these situations of “elite-ness” — and I don’t mean celebrities or athletes either, they’re workers too no matter how famous or rich — either by being one of the “bad boss” categories (sociopath, narcissist, abuser — see the book above, it lists them) or by marrying into it or being born into it.
My husband offers guidance from AA for people in recovery. Most alcoholics, he says, think they are unique and special. This fuels their addiction. Valuing yourself doesn’t mean you think you’re “unique,” it means that you have respect and value for yourself in the same way as you do for others.
We “normal” or ordinary people need to perform the difficult feat of VALUING ourselves and our time and our lives so we can ENFORCE decency on those who can’t, don’t, or won’t have it. We can’t take for granted that someone who is fundamentally INDECENT and who is incapable of having a normal care for themselves, other humans, animals, plants, and the planet — is going to do anything other than what they normally do or have any caring for others. It’s up to US to not “be special” but to care enough to take action and to stop being afraid.
It’s better to die on your feet than live with your face ground into the dirt. And, even though it may not feel like it at the time, it’s better to take action for yourself, your family, and your friends than it is to stay in one of these bad situations and to support a bad leader and boss. Even if you are not personally uncomfortable in the moment, at one point, you are guaranteed to be by supporting the situation or staying with the bad boss. Maybe think of it that way.