“It’s nothing personal; it’s just business” is something most of us have heard at work. It reflects the way degeneracy has crept into organizations. It’s evidence of the mean streak I wrote about today at Huffington Post. And we don’t have to go to work to find it.
Layers of organizations protect callous and corrupt individuals from accountability. What has been called the “collective mask” of complex organizations makes it difficult, often impossible, to learn who is responsible for despicable actions.
To make matters worse, guilt has taken a hit over the past several decades – and not just at work. “We have been so indoctrinated into believing guilt a negative thing that to feel guilt is often equated with a mild type of mental deficiency,” argues ethicist Kimlyn Bender of Jamestown College. For all its faults, fear of guilt – of the doubt, shame and self-punishment that guilt entails — served as an obstacle to despicable and antisocial actions. With guilt demeaned, is it any wonder we celebrate self-serving goals and rampant greed? What is there to stop them?
Ninety percent of the U.S. work force has been subjected to abusive behavior at some time, estimates Harvey Hornstein, Ph.D., author of Brutal Bosses and Their Prey. And much of this is because a comprehensive ethics that guided all aspects of our lives has given way to distinctive ethics for various aspects of our lives. In other words, there is an ethics for work, for marriage, for children, and so on. This fractioning has costs – one of them is greater acceptance of meanness toward those not sharing our particular set of ethics.
Another cost of a meaner world for most of us is increased stress. At home or at work, we feel it. Unless we are lucky enough to work in one of those increasingly rare workplaces that are only minimally or moderately political, every day can become a series of efforts to dodge attacks or to respond effectively to them so we can survive.
In a culture of such facile meanness, it’s important, crucial really, to know how deal with it — to know what to say or when to say nothing at all.