Lesson in Intimacy 2: I am not legend
Week two of trying to be intimate with colleagues and I’ve retreated into a psychic cave. Seems that trying to get closer to the people I work with has had the reverse effect and in a primitive defence I’ve been ‘working from home’. In an economic crisis this is no longer code for ‘I just fancied a bit more sleep’ just ‘leave me alone’.
People working in mental health are getting crushed somewhere between cuts and performance indicators and the literally overwhelming need of other people to communicate their distress to us. And one of the consequences of this occupational risk is that most of us experience serious and endemic bullying at work.
Working at home with the radio on has led to having loads of half facts rattling around in my head, but I learned a doozie of a genuine fact and one which could help us in our quest for intimacy.
Somewhere in the South Pacific, on an island called Tanna, the Kastom people created a religious cult called Philipism. In the 1960s, Prince Philip arrived on a royal visit and they took him to be a divine being, the white skinned son of a mountain spirit. Prince Philip becomes the stuff of legend.
In the days when the BBC actually employed people, they used to have a department tasked with curating the nation’s love and making memorial films for the royal family. The only programme that wasn’t completed was the one for Prince Philip because, bluntly put, they couldn’t find enough people who had anything nice to say about him.
Turns out that in the flesh he really is an ‘orrible bully.
Legends often get created by groups when they are in crisis. The psychoanalytic writer, Wilfred Bion, working in the fallout of two world wars worked with groups of traumatised people and observed some of the primitive defences that comes into play when we’re under threat. One of these defences involves the fantasy that a hero is going to step in. Someone from the outside is going to drag us out of the workplace mire of despair.
In the case of Prince Philip you have to admit that this was something of an irony, but I would argue, not more than the rest of us that get caught up in becoming legends.
This seductive fantasy of white horses and royalty is one that many workplaces are actually drawn into during a recession and gets even more realistic if you think that there’s a drop of royal blood throbbing through your veins, which many of us working in vocational professions are inclined to believe.
Last week I had the pleasure of doing a workshop on bullying in Llandudno organised by Mind. I realise that talking about bullying at work a Friday afternoon is not everyone’s idea of a laugh but it was a genuine relief for some of us to be able to think together about one of the most toxic and painful aspects of being in groups.
For most of us our experience of being in groups at work is really painful. Plenty of material available to encourage us to totally give up on other human beings. Avoiding the seduction of believing in a workplace caste system made up of bullies and victims, heroes and villains requires being brave enough to be honest about what we’re all really like. A mixture of all of these things, with potential for being the panto goodie and baddie all at the same time. Turns out that the problem of bullying can’t be solved because the problem of being human can’t be either.
All we can do is restore human contact, with ourselves and the people around us.
Remembering Lesson 1, we know that all of us are amateurs at relationships and for most of us getting on with the people that we work with is a really hard slog. It involves facing up to internal and external demons and giving both of us a break for not being a real life superhero.
So Lesson 2 of intimacy, is to give up our romantic dreams being a legend or riding white horses. Instead take a small amount of genuine bravery and try to make some real human contact with someone you work with on this potentially quite grim Monday morning.
Here is some advice from an expert on how to do this.
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