A friendly work environment can help prevent stress and anger in workers and anger can be a precursor for violence. A hostile environment can also affect the trust of customers for the business. (9.1)
When one employee is being mistreated it not only hurts that employee it also creates a less trusting atmosphere for any coworkers or customers who observe the negative treatment. (9.1) If one person is treated like that then why expect that anyone else might be treated better?
Stress has been associated with negative symptoms and with increased absenteeism:
”In 2011, the American Psychological Association released results from its stress survey. When asked what symptoms the 1,200 participants had experienced in the past month as a result of stress, 42% reported feeling irritable or angry, 39% anxious or nervous, 37% depressed or sad, while 35% lacked motivation.” (9.2)
Anger has been associated with increased violence and anxiety and other negative symptoms: “such as decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, ineffective work relationships, and a variety of health complaints, including anxiety, stress, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease (Begley, 1994; Diamond, 1982; Friedman & Roseman, 1974; Gibson & Barsade, 1999; Neuman & Baron, 1997).” (9.3)
Reducing and managing our own stress level may be the easiest way we all can help reduce the risk of verbal or physical harassment of people of other genders or those who have some other racial or physical difference. A stressed person may answer a question a little too quickly or with a joke and another person who is also stressed may take it personally and respond negatively and that sort of minor bickering can lead to increased tension and anger building up which may eventually end up as an angry burst lashing out either that day or on some other stressful day in the future.
To reduce risk of harassment or discrimination of coworkers or other people it is first important to recognize that our feelings and actions are under our own control and are not due to someone else's behavior. Someone else's behavior might lead to a person feeling more emotional, whether they became more angry or aroused or delighted or a mixture of feelings, but whatever actions the person takes in response to their own emotional feelings are their own responsibility and are not "caused" by the other person's behavior.
Feelings can be simply observed mentally and let go with no actions being taken, when we have the ability to control our own reactions. That is self-control and a sign of maturity - and possibly also a sign of emotional health or years of cognitive behavioral or rational emotive therapy, (9.4), or meditation. (9.5) Labeling emotions has been found to calm the overactive anxiety center of the brain. (9.6)
Psychologically it has been found that having a word to label a feeling can help patients to cope with unusual or disturbing feelings.
Stressful times can make fear and anxiety more likely as our body's instincts expect to either run from danger or to freeze in position, possibly in the hopes of not being noticed by a predator. Positive stress is that which is seen as a challenge, a purpose to get up in the morning and create. It is also called eustress in psychiatric literature. Negative stress is reacted to more negatively in the body and cause fight or flight survival reactions and increases output of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. (9.7)
"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." - Pablo Picasso
Creating a pleasant work atmosphere where people feel safe from unfair persecution or humiliation may help prevent sudden violence where people who had seemed like quiet average people snap and try to harm others.
The sudden outburst of violence is not that common and is not about a serial killer who is concealing themselves as average among peers, or the manipulative and charming boss with a narcissistic, sociopathic, or psychopathic side. A random violent outburst more likely might be the hard worker who finally reached a “camel straw” moment – the proverbial final straw added to a load that makes the already overloaded camel’s burden too heavy for it to carry any further.
Verbal and physical intimidation are more common problems in the work place; and not reporting problems is also common. When is problem behavior serious? Or when is joking and teasing and pranks approaching harassment?
Labeling situations as serious and reportable may help an employee see that what they are experiencing is “bad enough,” and that they should seek help before anything “really serious” happens.
Labeling emotions can help to recognize when they are starting to build in one self or others. Unrecognized emotions may be more difficult to control because they are unrecognized but are uncomfortable and may lead to agitation and gradually build to more intense out of control anger or fear.
“Running amok” is an older term and “going postal,” is a newer term for sudden violence. A “red stapler” moment is a reference to a movie from the 90’s that became an instant classic among disgruntled workers everywhere: Office Space.
The movie Office Space shows all the “do not do this to your employees” bad boss examples to avoid following. Don’t be left holding only a stapler, plan ahead and give everyone their own. Fair treatment and a sense of autonomy, a right to some control over one’s work, are important for employees in addition to earning a fair paycheck. Threatening job loss or other retaliations can leave workers feeling trapped and hopeless because they may need that paycheck even if it isn’t fair.
Research has found that during stressful times, whether due to economic or environmental reasons, people are more likely to act out verbally or physically against people who are not of their same ethnic group. (9.11) During times of stress, violence against women is also more common, particularly against women who are suspected to be sexually active or to have been unfaithful in a relationship. (9.12) Other research has found that the rate of violent crime is associated with the rate of infection in the population. Research into group and individual behavior suggests that the rate of infectious disease in a group is significantly associated with the rate of violent and property crime and with the rate of violent crime against strangers. (9.11)
It is unclear from epidemiology studies whether an association is causal or correlated, but if health is associated with less violence, it seems like a reasonable goal to promote health and try to prevent infectious disease.
Some types of infectious disease can directly lead to symptoms of increased irritability or rage and historically, and times of environmental or economic stress have been linked to a medical condition that was called “amok” where a previously healthy person suddenly started killing or assaulting people randomly. Historically a condition known as amok was first described in 1893 where an individual suddenly acted violently and then would forget the manic episode. Descriptions of the disorder were recorded by the British medical superintendent of the Government Asylum in Singapore. Increases in cases of amok were more associated with “times of social tension or impending disaster.”
The term fell out of use as a medical diagnosis but became commonly used in the phrase “running amok” to describe anyone who was acting unusually out of control. (9.13) Gun violence in modern times has involved racist xenophobia or religious ideology in many cases (9.14, 9.15, 9.16), it can also involve copycat reactions to news coverage of other violent offenders, (9.17], and in a few cases may have involved a shooter who claimed to have amnesia of the event afterwards. (9.18, 9.19)
Is “amok” a real condition that needs a more modern name? Controlling guns doesn’t control violence with knives or vehicles or explosives or with poisons. Promoting health might help more individuals control themselves.
Negligence can also be lethal.
Promoting compassion for others rather than supporting persecution and humiliation of those who are different is necessary. The young learn by observing the way others act and how they treat each other. Teaching compassion or another topic is easier with demonstration than discussion. Police brutality that goes unpunished teaches the wrong message that persecution and humiliation of some types of people is okay when it is done by other types of people.
Recently teens filmed a man while he drowned and the group’s laughing and taunting was caught on the audio. The teens never reported the drowning and the man’s body was only found after a missing person’s report was filed. The video later became available and legally it has been found to fall into a loophole in the state’s laws. There is no legal requirement to help a person who is in danger in that state. (9.20)
Divisive politics and economic hardship can lead to more focus being placed on differences in religion or culture, sexual orientation or gender, between oneself and others but it doesn’t have to. Being civilized can mean recognizing those differences and valuing and seeking to understand them better instead of fearing or mistreating those who are different from oneself.
Shaming others, reminding them of guilt, can cause an increase of dopamine in the brain of the person doing the shaming. However a compassionate exchange with a friend or acquaintance can also boost dopamine, and so can reading new and interesting information. Listening to music and enjoying good food can also. There are many positive ways to boost dopamine besides shaming others, such as being grateful for others' diverse skills and unique backgrounds.
Shaming others may be a natural instinct to promote one’s own morality by making it clear one is not in support of the topic or person being shamed, (9.22), or it may derive from a sense of guilt about the situation or person being shamed. (9.23)
Being fair in the first place would leave less to feel guilty about, accepting each other for our differences as well as our similarities might also.
Shaming others, purposely humiliating them, can also be a form of control or intimidation to show power over another person or group of people. Shaming one member of a group can serve to humiliate and control the group. Less equal societies, with a group of wealthy elite at the top, may be more likely to use humiliation as a control tactic. (9.24) Human sacrifice in ancient cultures was found in a recent anthropology study to be more common in societies that also had greater inequality between the rich and poor. (9.25)
However, does shaming work as a form of social control to effectively promote changed behavior in the person being shamed?
The answer is no - or at least not effectively and consistently when it comes to alcohol abuse. Research with reality shows focused on alcohol addiction and recovery have found that alcoholism or relapse were still likely to occur even after public shaming. (9.26)
“Guilt” is a noun referring to the feeling one feels oneself over an error or misdeed, while “shame” can be used as a noun it is more typically used as a verb, “to shame.” Others shame the one who is guilty or believed to be guilty of something the group disapproves of. Other studies with alcohol counseling individually also found that shaming tactics did not effectively help individuals stop abusing alcohol. (9.26)
Studies of serial killers and other types of violent offenders found an association with early childhood abuse. Rejection by a parent or other important person in their life was found to have occurred in the early lives of 48% of a group of 62 serial killers in the study. Other types of physical, sexual or emotional abuse such as humiliation have also been associated with violent offenders, and early adoptions, neglect, or abandonment in early childhood have been associated with violent crime. (9.27)
In a study that included over 1000 violent offenders, shame and humiliation were found to be a common factor; violence was an attempt to restore a sense of pride or self-worth: “In the work, “Shame, Guilt, and Violence,” qualitative data from over 1,000 institutionalized offenders were gathered and analyzed over the course of four decades. According to Gilligan, self-conscious feelings of shame and a deteriorated sense of self-worth are the causal factors underlying violence; humiliation, Gilligan argues, compromises one’s identity, i.e. the way one sees oneself, and leads to feelings conceptualized as a loss of cohesion of the self, or a conceptual death of the self. This leads one to become violent in order to restore pride, or a sense of self-worth (Gilligan, 2003).” Overcrowding and economic job stress, which leads to lack of parental time, are factors thought to be involved in the number of young men in gangs who may join them seeking the nurturing that was missing at an empty childhood home. (9.28)
If someone at work has a favorite stapler, maybe just let them enjoy it in peace instead of teasing them about it - and maybe get one of your own to find out what the appeal might be.
Food and water can help prevent violence by helping promote a good mood. Images of nature or relaxing abstract art images have also been found helpful to reduce stress which was found to help reduce anger by helping reduce stress levels. (9.3)
Dopamine levels may also be increased by pleasant experiences or remembering something you had once enjoyed. Our primitive ancestors likely knew this information without needing the word “dopamine.” The list of cultural similarities from around the world by anthropologist Donald Brown includes several items that might lead to an increase in dopamine levels: “the existence of and concern with aesthetics, magic, males and females seen as having different natures, baby talk, gods,” “induction of altered states, marriage, body adornment,” “kinship terms,“ “numbers, cooking,” “names, dance, play, distinctions between right and wrong,” “empathy, reciprocity, rituals, concepts of fairness,” “music, color terms,“ binary sex terms,” “language, humor,” “symbolism, the linguistic concept of “and,” tools,” and “trade.” (pp 271-272, 7.3)
The list by Donald Brown also includes more negative behaviors that might also cause an increase in dopamine levels: “nepotism,” “gossip,” “in-group favoritism.“ (pp 271-272, 7.3) and “collectively subjecting miscreants to criticism, shaming and mockery, ostracizing and shunning,” (p325, 7.3)
Is nature rewarding cruelty? Or is nature rewarding behavior that may somehow be supporting the survival of the group as a whole?
Civilized people use words to share concerns and develop solutions. Understanding our instincts can help us to recognize when they may be interfering with teamwork and start reacting with logic instead of letting emotion take over your self control. A blogger makes a strong argument against using shame as a tactic for social control in our modern society. (9.26) Whether an individual is a member of an “individualistic” or “collectivist” society (pp 273-282, 7.3) may also affect how shame is used for social control, protecting the family name is more of a priority in a collectivist culture. (9.30)
For those with difficulty with self acceptance and who have a problem overcoming feelings of guilt and a tendency to self-shame a cognitive therapy technique focusing on compassion has been developed and is described for use in a group setting in the article, Compassionate Mind Training for People with High Shame and Self-Criticism: Overview and Pilot Study of a Group Therapy. (9.29)
We are so very connected compared to our ancestors of even just fifty to a hundred years ago. Research in the area of effective business design found that people form better teams when a business “unit,” such as one factory in an organization with many facilities, included no more than 150 employees in total. Our brains seem to reach an overload at some point with different types of memory and what we are able to cope with comfortably without stress.
More information on the topic of cultural similarities found in our history was included in the section When to Report?, and the topic will be continued in more detail again in the section What is Sexism?, but next is more information on the topic of good food for a good mood. Click the Food helps too page to continue reading.
Links and Reference footnotes for
Chapter 9: Friendliness helps.