Issue #68, 1/15/2007
The Professional Victim
Family Court Philosopher
Every large office or workplace has one or eventually will acquire one: a employee who thoroughly poisons the social environment around them. These people come in all shapes and sizes. They can be bosses or underlings, but they have one thing in common: They create new problems where none had previously existed.
We have seen several of these instances in Family Court and its surrounding structures: employees who everyone tiptoes around but who can't be removed. The problem is particularly acute in government work, where it is extremely difficult to fire people without "cause." What do you do about someone whose only real sin is raising issues that appear to be legitimate on the surface?
For example, your office is working well, through no fault of management. Everyone in the "line staff" is working together as a team toward a common goal. There isn't much need for management because everyone knows their job, is well-motivated and knows what to expect from others. The trouble is, this leaves the manager twiddling his thumbs. He is feeling useless and empty, so what does he do? He creates onerous new requirements for his employees. Meetings are held and memos are issued about issues that look important on paper, but that the employees know are trivial and disruptive. Their only purpose is to give the boss the sense that he still exists and is important.
This illustrates a phenomenon you find in all human organizations from families to whole nations: individuals who actively instigate conflicts to make themselves seem more important or to distract from their own internal demons.
Another common example in the workplace is the "professional discrimination victim." This may be a woman who continually complains of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Everywhere she goes, she is sexually harassed, and the funny thing is, she is not that attractive, especially when you get to know her. Wherever she is assigned, she finds herself harassed and demeaned by men: supervisors, co-workers, married men, single men... any male who might be seen as having some power over her.
Her weapons against this discrimination have been provided by the government, the court system and the organization itself. Women who have been sexually harassed or minorities who have been discriminated against have phone numbers to call and places to go where they will have a sympathetic ear, free assistance and often anonymity. These structures, of course, need harassment victims to justify their existence, so if one shows up on the doorstep, they are not going to be turned away.
If a man should happen to say they wrong words or tell an off-color joke in the presence of the professional victim, he is in deep trouble, because what is it? It's sexual harassment! The professional victim is constantly collecting evidence in support of her civil rights case. Soon, everyone in the office is on edge and becomes very careful in their interactions with the victim. Yes, the workplace is oppressive, but only because she made it that way.
The professional victim is very difficult to fire, because what is going to happen? She is going to sue. It's blatant retaliation against a whistleblower! Instead of being fired, she is usually shunted aside, to a place where it is hoped that she will cause as little damage as possible. Of course, this career diversion is grounds itself for lawsuit.
Simply by complaining and "raising issues," the professional victim succeeds in getting the world to revolve around her, even if she is incompetent in the job itself. Her complaints divert attention from her own job performance, because how can she be expected to get anything done under these oppressive conditions? As her lawsuits wind through court system and the workplace remains tense, some good employees get frustrated and leave. It is not just a matter of this one employee being unproductive but the whole workplace being damaged.
In all fairness, real sexual harassment certainly exists, an inevitable product of both the male and female sexual styles. However, whenever an enforcement avenue is created, there is a risk that it is going to be unfairly used as a weapon by the other side. This is true, also, whenever you create a domestic violence court, a racial discrimination office or an equal opportunity commission. Whenever you try to protect the apparently weak from the apparently strong, you run the risk that the weak will use the power of victimhood to avoid responsibility and cut the strong down.
Victimhood has its advantages. It is usually easier to claim or actively create oppression than to accept your own failings. If a teacher grades a test against you or if judges in some contest rate you poorly, it must be discrimination. They must be out to get you.
In fact, the real culprit may be inside. If the world seems to be discriminating against you, perhaps it is justified. Perhaps you have created an environment that makes people want to pull away and cut you out. Once they start withdrawing, then you panic and attack them, using whatever weapons are at your disposal. It is often easier to create enemies than to accept any flaw in yourself.
Every social environment is very fragile. Much depends on "trust"—a silent empathy and synergy that can't be put into words. One paranoid person can easily destroy that trust for dozens of others and turn a pleasant workplace into a living hell. All they have to do to create chaos is demand that all rules be made explicit and that all trust be examined for ulterior motives.
People are hired on the basis of their resumes, which say nothing about how well they work with others. Too much emphasis is usually put on credentials rather than personality. A brief interview with a psychologically enlightened manager can sometimes detect the problem candidates, but not always. After a hiring decision has been made, few managers have the courage to make the far more difficult decision to fire someone.
One bad hiring decision can result in ten years of hell for a whole division, and it may only end when the victim herself chooses to leave. At some point, she is so cut off from others, and the "harassment" and "discrimination" becomes so intolerable to her, that she quits in disgust—to waves of exuberant cheering among the people she leaves behind.
Then she goes to a new employer with an impressive resume of ten years' service and a woeful tale of how her previous employer discriminated against her. The new employer is sympathetic and gives her a chance to start over.
Just after the end of the probationary period at the new workplace, what does she encounter?
“Finally the truth was told about the female character--or lack of” — 8/20/08 (rating=5)
“That hit the nail on the head!” — 11/17/08 (rating=5)
“We have one in my neighborhood that baited my minor son into a conflict...sad” —7 December08 12/7/08 (rating=5)
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