Don’t reward mediocrity. You’d think that would be a no-brainer. But, think again.
Many larger companies and, especially, government, non-profits and public service organizations have unwritten policies protecting managers and employees who can’t be trusted to handle important, necessary tasks. Small companies usually do a better job of avoiding this trap because they simply can’t afford to keep deadwood around.
To deliver poor performance and low productivity – the mediocre, lazy slackers and bottom feeders. For example, when critical projects are due, they often take unscheduled leave or won’t come early or stay a minute extra. They produce sloppy, half-finished work. They assume other people will be responsible for cleaning up their messes. They do just enough that they’re not fired. But they’re incompetent enough that you can’t give them projects that matter or are hard. You’ll look bad when they fail.
Instead, reward and keep the solid workers as well as the shooting stars. They work extra, partner to meet difficult deadlines and push to get things right. Their personal and family time suffers because they’re dedicated but overloaded. You’ll give them the tough projects with tight deadlines because you know they’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. Everyone on their team and in other departments the team interacts with knows who can be counted on when the going gets tough.
As a co-worker carrying someone else’s burden, make waves and polish your resume. Don’t stay in a culture that rewards mediocrity and toxic behavior just the same as superior performance. Barely good enough isn’t good enough for long-term company success and job security.
Stopping bullies, whether overt, covert or cyberbullying, and especially stopping self-bullying, requires time, effort, courage, determination and perseverance – grit.
It’s easy to lose heart along the way, but we must not give into fear, discouragement, despair, defeat, loss of hope or depression. We must not listen to negative self-talk, or give in to the self-flagellation of shame or guilt, or pay attention to the voices who are convinced we’ll lose.
Instead, we need two crucial things to become effective in stopping bullying.
They may be the examples of family members, teachers, priests, ministers, friends. I always think of my mother’s mother, who walked across Europe when she was 16 in order to come to America – barefoot. I’m inspired by her example. If she could do it – with no cell phone, wireless tablet, social security, health or unemployment insurance – and not a word of English, how can I be less determined? How can I succumb to fear or despair?
They may be people in history or the news. Think of Joan of Arc or the women who walked across America along side covered wagons or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who escaped from Somalia. Think of the men at Valley Forge or the Battle of Britain who kept going even though everyone “knew” they didn’t have a chance. Think of George Washington and Winston Churchill refusing to admit defeat.
Many movies and books come to a dramatic moment when the heroes can chose to give up or to continue on, whether they win or lose. For example, in the last “Matrix” movie, Mr. Smith is defeating Neo. He keeps calling him Mr. Anderson and trying to sap his will and strength by taunting him with, “Why do you keep fighting. You know you can’t win.” Finally, in agony and desperation, Neo says, “Because I choose to!”
We need helpers to lift us out of the pit of despair; who will march on together with us.
We usually need help to remind us to keep on when we might otherwise give up.
Family, friends and even strangers can sometimes say the right words or make helpful gestures. When abusive, bullies seem unstoppable or our self-bullying seems overwhelming, our guardian angels can encourage us to keep our spirits strong and stand with us to keep us fighting. They can keep us from defeat, depression and suicide.
Sometimes they’re the gestures of famous people who inspire us. Because I grew up in Brooklyn at just the right time, I remember Peewee Reese, from Louisville, Kentucky, putting his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulder to let Jackie and the world know that Peewee was not a bystander. He was a witness for what was right, standing with him.
Sometimes fictional characters remind us of people being lifted and supported. In “The Lord of the Rings,” all the characters except Gandalf and Aragon have moments when they despair and are ready to give up to seemingly inevitable defeat by the forces of evil. And someone encourages them to keep fighting, because we must be an example for future generations and, also, we never know what will happen if we keep fighting. There are thousands of other examples.
We need to build:
An inner world of those models who will inspire us by saying the right words when we need them.
A community of deep and sturdy friends who will inspire us to remain strong and dedicated.
They don’t have to make anything okay. But what they do in the darkest times is to show that there is light and they throw a life line.
Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller. She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures.
If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame. Amy Chua is an abusive bully.
She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.” Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
“Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.
What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?
She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet. I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”). If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
There’s almost no joy in their lives. Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise. But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning. There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.
Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost.
This is a great and necessary value. It has made our society the first world. But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.
No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks. She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection. That’s why people take it so personally. Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons. These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.
Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx. She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon. When she grew up she sued him.
A better approach:
Have you observed your children individually and carefully? One approach does not fit them all.
Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own? Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out? This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own? Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you? How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
Character is critical. All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs. What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.
By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices. In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her. That’s not the answer either.
All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.
Verbal harassment, bullying and abuse; put-downs, lack of respect and cutting out can destroy confidence and self-esteem. Disparaging and demeaning remarks; ostracism, backed by righteous, sneering, superior judgments can be devastating to children. But they’re no less severe when done by adults to adults.
A Mother’s Day article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Henry, “What Cards Never Say on Mother’s Day,” complained about the lack of respect that dedicated, full-time mothers often get from other women, “even after four decades of feminism.” The article had some suggestions for dedicated mothers who still struggle to get respect from working women.
While the article was accurate in pointing out the problem, I think it totally missed the solution.
Bullies have used the put-down tactic forever. Remember all that cutting out with nasty, sarcastic comments, especially through junior and senior high school? Girls master this technique and boys wield it effectively also. If you’re not in the “right” group you’re scorned and shunned relentlessly. Even current celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Taylor Lautner talk about being the targets of this type of bullying in their school days.
Of course putting-down and cutting out rotten. But it’s not only kids who do it. As Amy Harris points out, working mothers often give no respect to women who stay home to be full-time mothers of their children.
Don’t waste time analyzing why people put-down others. That path won’t get you anywhere. Don’t waste time wanting laws to prevent people from putting down others. A legal solution also won’t get you anywhere except in the case of public statements about people in certain protected categories.
The real solution lies in you. When other people don’t respect you, look at the source and the possible consequences. Don’t take it personally, but also don’t let it go by without saying or doing something in return.
So, what can you do? First, you have to be strong in your own judgment of the path you’ve chosen. Being a full-time mother is a wonderful path. Work is necessary, but for most of us raising children is our most important and fulfilling task. I hope your children will grow up wise enough to appreciate your dedicated mothering when they’re adults. Not because you made a great “sacrifice” but because you made a wonderful, life-affirming choice and the children you love could reap the benefits.
Instead of taking other people’s judgments personally, go through the world testing other people to see if they rise enough in your estimation for you to keep them on your island. I hope you find wanting anyone who puts you down for choosing to be a full-time mother. Their choice to put-down mothers shows their lack of good sense. Don’t allow the judgment of people without good sense to be important to your confidence or self-esteem. Don’t let their judgment cause you self-doubt or negative self-talk. And don’t let them stay in your life. Instead, surround yourself with people who champion mothers.
I also said that you shouldn’t let their put-downs pass. Stopping bullies begins when you understand that real-world bullies don’t take your politeness or minimizing or ignoring them as a sign that you’re morally superior or inviting their friendship. Relentless bullies aren’t stopped by minimizing, ignoring, begging, bribing or appeasement. Dedicated bullies take the Golden Rule as a sign that you’re weak and also as an invitation to prey on you more. Doing nothing when you’re the target of relentless bullies is like holding up a sign saying that you’re a victim.
Almost every woman I’ve ever talked to who was taught by a well-meaning mother that she should feel sorry for the inner emptiness, low self-esteem and inner pain of the nasty girls who hurt them that she should ignore and rise above the catty remarks and hatred, now regrets their passivity. They feel keenly their lack of empowerment and bear the scars of their supposedly virtuous martyrdom. They wish that their mothers had trained them to fight back skillfully; verbally or physically.
There are many tactics you might try in response to put-downs; depending on you, them and the situation. Some mothers form their own cliques of supportive mothers. Others write responses on cue-cards and memorize them for delivery at the right moment. Some responses are sarcastic put-downs directed toward the women who don’t appreciate mothers or who aren’t satisfied and even joyous with the opportunity to raise children. Others merely comment on lives wasted at work. Others use pity: “I’m so sorry that you’re the kind of person who’s not fulfilled and doesn’t set a better example for your daughter (or son).”
I want to recognize an important truth that we often overlook. We know that we’re doing the right thing successfully when some people (“jerks) don’t like us and scorn our work and its value. People who put-down full-time mothers fall into that category. Don’t care what they think; don’t desire their respect. Instead, get them off your island and let them know it.
According to numerous reports, a teenager was bullied at West Middle School in metro Denver. The boy had pencils, markers and a calculator taken; he was called fat; he was called “gay” because he was involved in musical theater; because he was from musical theater, he was called a “Nazi.” Eventually, he tried fighting back against his tormentors. But he wasn’t big or strong enough and was beaten severely. He suffered a broken collar bone and head injury. The published picture of him is self-evident. Now that the case has become public, the community is in an uproar and the Cherry Creek School District has responded by expelling the bully. The bullied boy has reported that the bully threatened to beat him more when he returns. Three other students, who also threatened to beat up the victim, have been required to sign contracts that they won’t harass the boy. That’s nice of the school district to go that far.
Of course the legal wrangling will go on for a long time.
There’s so much to say about this example of hostility, abuse and brutality. I want to comment on only a few areas.
The adults failed. Whether they blame the legal system or say they didn’t know; they failed. Since the severe beating happened at the end of November, don’t you think that every student in school knew what was happening?
The parents of the bully and his collaborators failed. They are supposed to know their children’s character and to stop their children’s bullying.
The teachers failed. They are supposed to know who torments, abuses and bully’s another student and they are supposed to stop it. They allowed a hostile, abusive environment to continue. If the typical educational approaches don’t work rapidly, they are supposed to intervene in other ways.
The principal failed. The principal is supposed to set a tone of zero tolerance. The principal is supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullies. If the teachers don’t stop it, the principal is supposed to stop it and then get rid of those cowardly and/or ignorant teachers. The worst beating happened at the end of November and the principal did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.
The administrators in the school district failed. The administrators are supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullying. If the principal doesn’t stop it, the school district administrators are supposed to step in and then get rid of that cowardly and/or ignorant principal. The worst beating happened at the end of November and the district administrators did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.
How can we hold up these teachers, principal and school district administrators as models for children? They have failed as models. Despite, or maybe because of, their colleges and universities, their degrees and certifications, their possible expertise in some course matter, they have shown themselves to be ignorant or cowardly or inept or all three. They have failed the public trust and are unfit to be teachers, principal or administrators.
They should not be allowed to hide behind a poor legal system. We all know that there are schools in the most violent locations in which courageous administrators, principals and teachers bullying. And they do it in the face of the same.
The 14 year-old boy who was bullied has shown himself to be courageous. He has succeeded. At first he did what we all try to do. We try accommodating in hopes that the bully will move on. We ask bullies to stop; we take the bullying; we try to understand what lousy home lives we think bullies must have; we try to rise above it. These tactics may stop many kids who are temporarily trying on bullying to see what it feels like, but those tactics don’t stop dedicated, relentless bullies. They are not effective for teaching children to stop bullies at school.
Eventually that boy fought. I say he succeeded because, even though he was severely beaten he did what was necessary to try to stop his tormentors. He lost the fight but he emerges as the one person who is not a coward in this affair. He can hold his head up high all his life. He can keep his self-esteem. He can judge the adults as cowards and failures. I hope he is resilient enough to bounce back and continues to resist to bullies the rest of his life. I hope that when he becomes an adult with more choices, he creates a personal life that is bully-free. Sometimes, a tormented teen can fight back and win – as in the case of the “Teen acquitted in punch.”
Of course, bullies will always exist . America is not unique, nor are we the worst people in the world. We are outraged and we will try to make better systems. And more important, we still must train , seek and hire people who can act effectively, no matter how poor the system is at any moment. And we must educate and prepare individuals to be as courageous as that 14 year-old boy.