HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE

Not since the 1920s has there been more activism on the part of women in protest against male domination. Their current complaint is much different than that of the suffragettes, for it involves sex. This was a taboo topic for women of the ’20s, who were products of the Victorian era. The unintended consequence of such societal restrictions gave men free rein to sexually harass, abuse, humiliate, and denigrate women who would be too embarrassed to publicly complain. She could also be subjected to the time-honored policy of blaming the victim.

There has been much news recently about a big-time movie mogul who is currently under the gun from a platoon of gals alleging not only harassment but assault. This brought up memories from my childhood when there was a lot of talk about how movie starlets “screwed their way to the top.” It was said by those supposedly knowledgeable about the industry that the road to stardom was via a producer’s couch (the “casting couch”), and of course, people said that it was the directors who were taken advantage of, for they were seduced. I don’t recall ever hearing an actress, or anyone else for that matter, complain about sexual abuse. What suffering they may have endured was done silently.

Ah, but how times have changed. Women have come out of the closet en masse, determined to seek retribution in spite of their fears and embarrassment; they instantly changed from shamed to heroic. It doesn’t hurt that one third of all judges in the country are now women and that women can no longer be depended upon to vote the same as do their husbands. Consequently, they have become a political force to be reckoned with.

Among the torrent of disclosures are stories of workplace abuse going back decades. Although I have always found physical abuse abhorrent, I must confess that in years past I was oblivious to the discomfort that even off-color remarks could actually inflict on a woman. Were she to complain, I would undoubtedly accuse her of lacking a sense of humor. When such situations evolved in social situations, Barb was usually there to set me straight. However, when such behaviors occur in the workplace it becomes much more complicated. Indeed, in any situation in which there is a hierarchical power structure, sexual harassment, or even unwanted physical contact, will be initiated by the more powerful person almost without exception.

Of course, this leaves the victim in an untenable position, often forced to choose between tolerating the abuse or putting his or her job in jeopardy. Defensiveness is likely to curry disfavor with her superior which could result in disaster. Not only could chances for promotion become limited, victims could even lose their jobs. They then could be labeled as troublemakers and carry that label with them as they search for a new job. Larger companies are likely to have a Human Resource department where one can lodge a complaint, but they may be more interested in protecting the company than the employee.

The increased number of harassment and abuse charges in the workplace is certain to provide another cash cow for the lawyers who could find such cases as lucrative as auto accidents. For many years, businesses have been concerned about the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Many have spent large sums on programs designed to educate employees regarding rules for interactions with fellow employees of the opposite sex. As a matter of fact, I was told by a person who had previously worked in a supervisory position for a fortune 500 company that he had been required to repeat such a course annually.

He also said that those accused of sexual improprieties were subject to immediate dismissal. In spite of these efforts, there continued to be complaints of harassment. Those complaints may have been exaggerated at times, for the company, apparently more concerned with reputation than money, initiated a policy of negotiating payments to these complainants in return for a pledge of secrecy without regard to the legitimacy of their complaints.

But, the most flagrant example of the payment of hush money was by the recently exposed Congressional Accountability Office. It was revealed in the November 15th, 2017 issue of USA Today that this office, under direct control of our elected representatives, had paid out over 17 million dollars of taxpayer money with the proviso that such payments remain secret. This had all occurred since the agency was established in 1995, and it got some attention since it involved dollars from the voter’s pocketbook. The inherent assumption that these alleged perpetrators were falsely accused was exemplified by the the caveat that the victims, not the accused, must agree to engage in counseling, another example of blaming the victim without any attempts to confirm or negate the claims.

This reminded me of problems that similar policies caused during the height of the epidemic of medical malpractice suits several years ago. Nearly all physicians carried malpractice insurance, but many found that when they were sued, their insurance company found it cheaper to settle than to fund a court case. Doctors who felt the charges against them were unfounded wanted their “day in court,” but found the terms of their policy did not give them that option unless they wanted to pay the expenses of a trial.

It was a tidy arrangement: the plaintiff could pick up a few thousand bucks, the lawyer would get 20 or 30% of the take for not much more effort than it takes to write a letter, the insurance company avoids the risk of getting one of those multimillion dollar judgments from an unusually sympathetic jury, and everyone is happy except for the doctor who will find himself registered in the National Practitioner Data Bank with a forever sullied reputation. He will be looked on with suspicion when applying for hospital privileges or virtually any professional activity, and if he is unfortunate enough to be sued for the second time, he will probably be forced to hang it up, as he will undoubtedly become uninsurable. I knew a physician whom I thought to be very competent who was forced to end his career prematurely this way. A few of the uninsured risked losing everything by “going bare” i.e. practicing without insurance.

None of this should be construed as to minimize the importance of this issue or to excuse the centuries in which women have been left powerless to defend themselves. It does appear to me that women are on the threshold of finding tools with which they can exert more control over their own lives, and defend themselves from those behaviors they find abhorrent. That is not only as it should be, but as it must be as women gain credibility and status. They may even prove themselves superior in areas previously exclusively occupied by men and, consequently, come to occupy positions of leadership in spite of long held exclusionary policies.

With leadership comes power. Let us hope women will use that power in a more judicious manner than have men, and the traditional “battle of the sexes” will no longer be played out in the workplace. This appears to me to be unlikely, as I believe the reasons for the continuation of the love-hate relationships between the sexes are deeply ingrained in our species, perhaps even in our DNA. This is an issue which I discussed in a previous blog. The women’s movement has a stated goal of equality. After they achieve that goal, perhaps there would even be more problems should they move onto a quest for domination.

Workplace problems do not have a simple solution. There are people of both sexes who have longstanding anger towards members of their opposite gender. How can accusations be adjudicated? Does the policy of paying hush money give the rich license to violate as they please? On the other hand, does it allow those falsely accused to be legally blackmailed? How about flirting—when does it cross the line? When is a friendly attitude mistaken for an invitation to be intimate? It is reported that many office romances end in marriage—would they happen if all were able to ignore another’s appeal? What about relationships between co-workers outside the workplace? What about the use of “feminine wiles” to advance one’s position at the expense of another competing for favorable treatment?
If my assessment of the male’s need to dominate is correct, those who attempt to solve these problems are in for an uphill struggle, for despite society’s best efforts, there remains in mankind only a thin veneer of civilized behavior. Nevertheless, our culture is changing in ways which often conspire to make traditional male-female relationships dysfunctional. I read somewhere that some smart guy said change only occurs with revolution, and revolution is accompanied by chaos. We now appear to be in the midst of the next phase of a revolution that began over 100 years ago. Change is needed. Let us hope that the chaos will be limited and that the change pendulum will not swing too far.

PANTS ON FIRE: the truth about truthfulness

Since our fearless leader arrived on the scene, there has been much debate over the matter of truthfulness. Though the word truth may not be as fashionable as it once was, it is still used a great deal in everyday language. I have my own ideas about the definition of the word, but etymologists tell us language is in a constant state of flux. With that in mind I decided to look up the definition of the word to see if its meaning had changed during the past 80 or so years. It seemed to not have changed appreciatively since the day a few decades ago when I lied about throwing a hatchet at my brother.
The definitions of the word “truth” I found confusing in most cases; for example, one was “the quality or state of being true,”  which I did not find to be helpful. It reminded me of the meaningless cliche “it is what it is.” However, I was pleased to learn that some of the synonyms used george-washington-cherry-treefor truth, such as candor, honesty, and sincerity, are still associated with the word. Along with a few million other kids I was indoctrinated with the fable of George Washington and the cherry tree. The moral of that story was very clear that lying about the deed was as bad or worse that the deed itself. To that end when my father confronted me about a misdeed, and said “don’t lie to me” I soon learned that I was more likely to escape corporal punishment if I confessed.

 

Truthfulness in the “good ole days”

According to my recollection, truthfulness was highly regarded in those days; although there were situations in which lying was condoned. For example, horse traders, much as the used car salesmen of today, were famously expected to lie. In those days I am told that transactions involving horses were seen as a competition testing the ability of the buyer or trader to judge horses, and the rules about truthfulness were suspended. In most situations however; truthfulness was considered a virtue and liars were regarded as on the same level as wife beaters.
My indoctrination into those ideas about truth was successful, and I value them even today, although I must confess that I have transgressed a few times. In most cases I have rationalized by telling myself they are only white lies, minor exaggerations, or embellishments, and that there are times when truth can be hurtful. As a consequence, I tend to classify lies as to their size in order to excuse my behavior. However, according to the Smith classification, any prevarication uttered by the most powerful man in the world is a whopper with the potential of dire consequences for the entire world.

I Don’t Care if Trump Lies

With all that in mind, you can imagine my chagrin when I ran across an article in the January 23 issue of “The Daily Wire” titled 5 REASONS I DON’T CARE IF TRUMP LIES. It was written by John Nolte who had previously been editor of the far right web based Breitbart News which was also the former home of Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s advisor. Mr. Nolte justifies the lying by using “the old everybody does it” strategy we used in grade school by saying: “Politicians lie. That is what they do.” He goes on to say “In politics lying is a tactic, and if you don’t use that tactic, you’re screwed.” 19c05de8e57fda9170ee3a1e7a95e269How many times in history have we heard that. If indeed the most talented at lying have an advantage at the polls, it might explain why there appears to be so much dissatisfaction about the performance of our elected officials. Nolte is not so charitable with the major news outlets that he describes as “evil” due to their dishonesty, but assures us that “I will not lie.” Yes, I am sure George Washington would be pleased to know someone is following in his footsteps.

Fake News. Confirmation Bias. The Internet Conundrum.

4e6661deeb79365cf2ad34752f12c3f7The term “fake news” has been bandied about a lot lately, but that seems to me an oxymoron. If it is fake, it is simply a lie, certainly not news. No matter what it is called, the internet has become a fertile field for its growth. It allows any individual to send whatever lie he chooses with impunity to large numbers of people who are then capable of spreading it to others like an epidemic. The more outrageous or unusual the story, the more likely it is to be widely dispersed. The volume of such misinformation is such that there is something for everybody so that a person is more likely to believe something if it supports his own beliefs or prejudices, and discard that with which he disagrees. This has been called the confirmation bias.
As he continues to surf the web, he will be drawn to those sites, truthful or not, which confirm his beliefs. So armed, he becomes even more entrenched in his opinions and more unlikely to listen to alternative ideas. In my opinion this is one of the major contributors to our divisiveness. Unfortunately his conclusions may have been influenced by faulty evidence.

In an optimistic essay in the December 29, 2011 issue of the Atlantic, by Rebecca Rosen titled TRUTH, LIES and the INTERNET, she acknowledges that the internet is a repository for much misinformation, but comforts us by insisting “the internet has brought a golden age of Fact Checking,” and goes on to say “…..the good news is that the Internet is nurturing accuracy.”

So much for prophecies: here we are six years later with the development of wonderfully complex lie machines, which are not only capable of reaching millions of people, but can actually tailor their lies to appeal to certain groups or even individuals. In the face of such onslaughts, all the fact checkers in the world could not keep up with their output.
Not only has the internet provided a convenient platform for the delivery of lies, new techniques such as the twitterbot are now used to overwhelm and prevent access by competing messages.

In contrast to the Atlantic article, Richard Clarke’s book, Cyber Warfare has turned out to be prophetic. He had warned in his book that the US was sorely lacking in preparedness for cyberattacks. Russia has proven him correct in his assessment by their role in attempting to undermine our electoral process. I have heard several comments on TV which attempt to assure us that the outcome of the election was not affected by these cyberattacks; however I find it hard to believe that anyone could be certain of that since there are so many intangibles which may affect such outcomes.

Whatever the effects they may have had on the outcome of the election, the specter of even the possibility of an illegitimate presidency or treasonous staff members is a win for the Russians due to the loss of confidence in the process. Slanderous comments about various politicians are accepted as fact by some which further undermines the trust in our system. Attitudes so developed may also result in a cynicism about our government which may discourage our brightest and most dedicated from a career in public service.

Facts. The truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.

When testifying in a court of law all people must swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. This oath is said to have been traced to the 13th century. Those guys must have been pretty smart, for they already were aware of how one could make a lie appear to be the truth. Unfortunately, counterfeit truth tellers are not required to take such an oath in ordinary situations. They can avoid telling the “whole” truth by taking something out of context, usually a word or modifying phrase that changes the meaning of what is said. The “nothing but the truth” phrase forbids the mixing in a lie or two which can also change the gist of the message. Such strategies seem to me to be used more frequently now than in days past.

190583Beliefs and opinions are not facts. Facts are a necessary component of truth; however truth is more than that. Truth requires an understanding of the meaning of the facts, their relevance to the issue at hand, and their context. Truth is necessary for our survival. Truth is essential for development of trust. Without trust, chaos reigns and society disintegrates. Truth is honest, sincere, and respectful. Truth is especially important in today’s messy world, but currently seems to be in short supply.
Since I began this essay, I noted that Time Magazine featured a lead article on truthfulness. Although I was initially dismayed to have been scooped, I was nevertheless heartened that the issue is getting the attention it deserves. Of course lying is not a recent development.  It has been said that THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE which leads one to ponder the question of the effect of its absence.   Plato addressed its seriousness a bit before my tenure when he said:
“FALSE WORDS ARE NOT ONLY EVIL IN THEMSELVES, BUT THEY INFECT THE SOUL WITH EVIL.

THE SMARTEST GUY “He’s so smart, I didn’t understand a word he said.”

Editor’s Note: Due to my ability to type really fast, one of my first jobs was to use the Dictaphone at my dad’s office to type information dictated by the psychiatrists. I would use my foot to press the peddle that played the tape and type along as they spoke. I typed letters to consulting physicians and articles they wrote for publications. I remember being surprised at my dad’s vast vocabulary. He certainly didn’t use those fancy words in the office or at home. When I discussed this perplexing issue with my dad, I learned two lessons that have stuck with me my entire life. 1) Don’t use a dollar word when a dime one will do. 2) Know your audience and communicate in the language they speak. One of our running family quotes is part of this blog post: “Doc, he was so smart I didn’t understand a word he said.”

THE SMARTEST GUY 
My Grandson gave me an interesting book for Christmas. This is not a book review so the title is not important. Suffice it to say, it has to do with some theological issues which he and I had discussed in the past, and in particular a “doubting Thomas” streak owned by me. There was much food for thought, some of which was not very digestible.
The author was obviously well read as there were 53 pages of references cited. It was well written; although I found some of the reasoning a bit convoluted. It was a tedious read for me, but I must confess that I also have trouble deciphering the Bible. All of the quotes the author offered throughout the book often added to my confusion. I am sure those guys are all very famous; however I had never heard of most of them. The author would make his point then throw in a “in the words of……….” which was not nearly as coherent as his original statement. Perhaps he was only paying homage to the experts in his field, but I was impressed that he must be a speed reader to have read all that stuff. I was also surprised to learn that Christianity could be so complicated. 
As I read the book, I was reminded of an experience from many years ago. I was seeing a patient for the first time. His was a chronic, although not disabling condition, which had been exacerbated by the unexpected death of his psychiatrist. He talked warmly of his feelings for the deceased, and shared that he missed his counsel. He also spoke of his respect for the man’s intelligence with: “Dr………. was the smartest man I ever knew. He was so smart that when he said something I couldn’t understand a word he said.”
Now all these years later, I can identify with this patient’s assessment of the good doctor’s intelligence for some of the guys quoted in the aforementioned book were much too smart for me to understand. You may be thinking that the alternate explanation might be that I am too stupid to understand, a conclusion that I am loath to accept. After all, I did manage to limp through 24 years of school even though my scholastic career was admittedly undistinguished. My mother proudly said that I knew my ABCs, and could count to 100 by the time I entered the first grade. I have a vivid memory of my father showing my third grade report card to everyone in Varner’s store who would look. Even though this was the first and last time he would be able to exhibit a report card with all A’s, I feel it should count for something. 
There is the possibility of another less flattering explanation, which could help explain the comprehension problem. I have a friend whom I have always admired for his scholarship. His writings demonstrate a vast knowledge of classical literature, history, philosophy and classical music. He is also a veritable expert in psychoanalytic theory. His writings make use of metaphor and relevant quotes. Imagine my surprise when in my confessions of envy for his use of all this knowledge in his writings, his wife responded, “I think it is just showing off.” Perhaps she was having a bad day or he had forgotten to take out the trash, for she has shown her love for him in many ways during the many years they have been together.
The comment by my friend’s spouse does raise the question as to whether our writings are often more about ourselves than the subject about which we are writing. Could it be that sometimes the message intended may be corrupted by our ego needs? How much of the motivation of this author’s writings were motivated by a need to “show off”? For that matter does that same dynamic have anything to do with my writing of this paper. I have often said in jest that I would like to be rich and famous. Since the former has escaped me, perhaps I am still holding out for the latter. But then I have also had fantasies of winning the $1.5 billion power ball thing; even though I have never bought a ticket. 

When I was a kid we sometimes perpetrated cruel party jokes designed to humiliate and embarrass. One such stunt involved telling a joke with a nonsense punch line. The group who was in on the joke would laugh loudly, and the butt of the joke would join in the laughter even though there was nothing remotely funny. We called such tactics “shaggy dog stories.” I must admit there are times when I feel I have nodded in agreement with someone when I had no idea what they were talking about, much as the patient who idolized his dead psychiatrist must have done. 
There are times when reading something that is clearly beyond my abilities to grasp, I wonder if I am the victim of a shaggy dog story, and that the author is having a good laugh at my expense. The most recent example is my attempt to wade through a book on quantum mechanics. I was humbled by my inability to make any sense of that stuff. Upon learning that the book was written for ordinary people like myself left my ego was left in shreds. This was not Greek to me. It was more like a mixture of Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Apache indian. What I could decipher was so implausible that I found myself thinking “can this person be serious?” and again wondering if this was not a variation on the shaggy dog theme. 
It has been said the best defense against Alzheimer’s and similar dementias is to make liberal use one’s brain. All intellectual pursuits are encouraged, but I have noted that this can clearly be overdone. I submit that a brain can also become fatigued; consequently, I will now put down my book on particle physics, fire up my kindle, and escape to a mindless mystery novel.