* The game of jerks, bozos and assholesPhoto source: pixabay.com
Respect, decorum and civility are not only disappearing from the political discourse. It is not just about the incessant demonization of immigrants, criminalization of dissenting views and assaults on reason. It is also about the public and private interactions among workers of the so-called knowledge economies, which include scientists and entrepreneurs (or their wannabes).
Robert Suttons The No Asshole Rule defines the Dirty Dozen, a top-12 list of everyday actions that toxic, abusive workers exercise. It ranges from personal insults and threats (verbal and nonverbal) to status slaps and public shaming. I would also add various creative uses of passive aggression, distortions of reality, bullshitting tactics and shameless lies thrown in your face or behind your back. You also have those individuals who are not rude but keep telling people to suck it up, to get their act together or to believe that disrespect is just a question of interpretation.
This type of behavior is not only inappropriate and unfortunate. It can have negative consequences on individuals, organizations and societies. It is not only about ignoring rights and dignity, which should greatly matter anyway, but also about destroying trust and productivity. This way of life can be witnessed in physical and more virtual settings, including emails, discussion forums and social media.
A polite asshole is still an asshole
Civility is more than being polite. I have encountered a good number of polite and smiling fools, who have mastered an astounding capacity for incivility. Politeness can be manipulated to befriend the hypocrite and the conceited, who repeatedly destroy and vilify.
Civility means bringing discussion of problems to a ground where people emphasize arguments and the evidence to support or refute the arguments. I remember a particularly poisonous character who, when confronted with critical views of his actions, replied with statements such as she said that because she is a woman or I do it because I am in charge. There are also those who exploit friendly appearances to backstab you and get away with it because of their status in the authority or ass-kissing heap. What about those who condescend behind a mask of politeness?
Civility also requires (and benefits from) conversations that are based on facts or reproducible observations. Because of this, civility can enrich efforts to resolve conflicts or tough disagreements. Civility is also about making people feel safe in their work environments. Environments where privacy, diversity of ideas and fairness are more than corporate soundbites. Civility can also involve strong, argumentative and even witty deliberation, without having to recur to veiled threats. Civility also flourishes in organizations with a zero-tolerance to unfounded accusations, exaggerated claims and disregard for peoples basic needs.
This aggression will not stand, man. The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
Disagreement and debate, and even a good dose of confrontation, are crucial in public discourse, especially that engaging scientists and potential innovators. However, this does not mean that we should accept incivility as a natural consequence of modern times, or that there is little we can do about it. This is actually too important to let a few noxious people to hijack public or more circumscribed interactions for their selfish gains.
Now, more than ever, there is a need to stand up to jerks and other self-centered dunces. This must be done in firm and rational ways. I recently witnessed a good example of how to do it well.
A colleague of mine stood up to an instance of abusive (email-driven) behavior directed to a third person, and his response displayed features that are worth highlighting:
We cannot let incivility tear us apart. Incivility is in the road to destruction. We have had enough of that.
– I thank Alayne Smith for comments on an early draft.