Monday, 12 April 2010

Mobbing Considered Dangerous

But of course it is! you will rightfully exclaim. And of course you'll be right - it always is, and can never be anything else. Period.

Maybe I should explain myself then...

First, for non-Americans and non-ex-Yugoslavs among you, "mobbing" is what "workplace bullying" is to you and me. Do things now sound a bit clearer? No? OK, I shall explain.

Have a look in a dictionary. What is a mob? Good. Now, doesn't now "mobbing" sound very much like a group activity? It does to me. It surely can't be the case that mob in "mobbing" is being abused (and bullying is abuse). But this implication is (almost always) wrong! When was the last time you've heard of a whole office ganging up on someone? I am deliberately not asking if you've seen it. Sadly, most often we do not see workplace bullying even if it's happening right in front of our eyes.

The term "bullying" sounds suspiciously like an attempt at diluting the responsibility for one person's wrongdoing, and spreading it across the group of (usually) innocent bystanders. It's not just the boss! it whispers to us and winks. It's all of us. Well, yes, we are all probably guilty of doing nothing to stop it, but that does not mean we're all bullies. Mob we may be, and a cowardly one at that, but that's all and no more. 

This is why I believe "mobbing" is the wrong word to use for what is bullying. It is a one-to-one activity, where the bad person is nothing more, and nothing less than a bully. And we all know what a bully is: a mean spirited weakling, most likely covering up their own weakness and deficiency. Yes, more often than not a bully has to thank his own upbringing for what he became, but that's never an excuse - it's a mere explanation. And, by using a word "bully" suddenly the horrible acts perpetrated suddenly have a face, and a name - the name of a person who is a bully. A mob is always faceless, and practically never faces the consequences of its actions. A bully can be singled out, contained, and eventually driven out.

So, in the name of all the unfortunate ones who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves on the wrong side of a bully, let us call spade a spade, and make it easier to fight back. Of course, not by becoming bullies ourselves, but by pushing back at the ones amongst us until they leave, or at least leave us alone. 

I have never been bullied (statistically I was lucky, apparently!), and, as statistically improbable it may be, I'd like to believe that I have never even witnessed someone else being bullied. Regardless, and especially if I have failed on either count above, I owe it to myself to call for the term "mobbing" to be abandoned for something much more appropriate and accurate: workplace bullying.

Note for non-English speakers

Please try and find an appropriate word in your language that exposes bullying for what it is. I know for a fact that at least in Serbia and Croatia, the term "mobbing" has been adopted without translating, making its failing so much the worse! Now, neither the word used correctly describes bullying, nor is its meaning, weak and not quite right as it is, freely available to those who do not speak English, or at least not very well. To them, this becomes just a sound to which they can ascribe whatever meaning they like. And knowing how easy it is to turn your gaze to the other side when bullying is happening, not even calling it anything meaningful must make it so much easier to ignore. Not only we're inclined not to see it, but the language we use to describe it is foreign at best, and nonsensical at worst. This is clearly a recipe for going through the motions while achieving precisely nothing. 

This is inexcusable!

I may not be a language expert, but I must say I see nothing wrong with going the whole hog and using the word "siledžija" for a bully. We all know what it means, and it has absolutely no positive connotations. The phrase "siledžijstvo na radnom mestu" may sound a little bit strong, but I think it conveys just the right meaning and level of seriousness "workplace bullying" deserves.

I know this will not happen. But at least I've tried. 

PS
Oh, and as soon as I find the right platform and the opportunity, I will make this suggestion in my native language, too. But then, why not learn English, and see for yourself what I mean by the treatise above.

And yes, this post was mostly for the benefit of non-English speakers...

PPS
If you think the photo is disingenuous to women, who (truly) are mostly the targets of bullying - think again. Statistics seem to show that a lot of women are bullies themselves, and also that they tend to pick on their own.