Ahimsa 4: In the Work Place - Show You Care

Most people think of violence as physical assault or using guns and bombs. Few relate it to their own personal daily behaviour. We think that violence is perpetrated by others. Never by ourselves. But if we scrutinize ourselves, we will find elements of violence within us that will shock us. As most of our lives are lived out in the family and the work place, these places are where we are often violent.

At an executive meeting in a reputed firm, one person was particularly aggressive as his ideas were not being incorporated. After the vote, where his plan was rejected, he angrily pushed all his papers and a glass of water to the floor and walked out. This is himsa behaviour.

Workplace violence has a broad spectrum. From prejudice, discrimination, bullying, domination and oppression, to acts in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted, to rumour mongering, gossiping, and bitching behind someone’s back. Workplace violence also includes threatening behaviour such as shaking fists, slamming doors, destroying property or throwing objects; verbal or written threats; harassment; behaviour that demeans, embarrasses or humiliates a person; swearing, insulting or using condescending language, and of course physical attacks.

Who are the perpetrators of violence in the work place? Ordinary people like you and me, who are frustrated, over -stressed, anxious and narrow minded. Those too who are loners, who feel that nobody listens to them or has any time for them; those with emotional problems, career frustrations and those who have more power than others.

Who are the victims? Usually it is those who have no power to stand up to authority; those on a lower cadre, those who cannot express themselves well and women.

Having recognized violence in our work place, what do we do about it? The most common response is to act with a similar kind violence. Violence as we know, begets more violence and the cycle goes on.

Is there a place for ahimsa at work? In the arena of inflated egos, ambition, success and the insane desire for power and control, it may seem as if the ahimsa way is irrelevant. But today more than ever, we need people who practice the ahimsa living to stem the tide of work place violence which wrecks so many lives.

How can we react in an ahimsa way when we are at the mercy of someone else’s ego, or lust for power? Do ahimsa values fit in when one is seen as a mere pawn in someone’s ladder to success? The work arena today for many, is fraught with bad relationships and rivalry. Where does the ahimsa way of life fit into this?

A professor with a bruised ego, failed a postgraduate student every time he sat for a particular examination for five years. Recollecting his experiences, the young man said, “ I realized that the violent feelings against him within me was not harming him, but me. I began my day by praying for him. It calmed me and put away the angry thoughts. Then I began doing little things for him which he was not aware of, not with the idea of buttering him up to pass me, but because that is what I wanted to do. He failed me again that year, but in my heart I was at peace.”

It may seem as if being an ahimsa person is akin to being a door mat, allowing others to walk over you. But those who stand up for an ahimsa way swear that being so, gives them inner strength and power over the person who hurts them.

Ahimsa at the work place also translates into standing up for the underdog, and those who struggle in some way. It means taking a moment during your coffee break to listen to a colleague’s troubles; to be able to diffuse an angry person with calmness and good advice; to be fair and just.

An incompetent boss called his juniors, “ idiots,” and harassed two of them as their english was not so good. As a result, these young men from the suburbs became nervous in his presence and made more mistakes. An elderly colleague, took them aside, befriended them, taught them to speak properly and familiarized them with office etiquette. At one point, when they were unfairly criticized, he spoke in defence of them at the risk of losing his own job. Being an ahimsa person can be dangerous, but it is worth the risk.

Usually we handle the ups and downs of our professional and emotional lives at the office in a himsa way. We ignore the person who is not like us; get snappy and irritated with someone who is incompetent; and jealous of the one who is better than us. Here too, the ahimsa person is like warm oil on a wound. A young woman was going through a difficult phase after the loss of her mother. Occasionally she would cry, and be unable to cope with her grief and her work. This irritated some of her colleagues as they felt that she should put her grief aside and just get on with the work. One of them saw through her pain, and spoke caringly to her during the lunch break. One day, when the grief was too much she asked her to go home early and offered to finish the work herself. This is ahimsa in the work place – letting someone know that you care. Going the extra mile for that person and carrying his or her load as well as your own.

Take an audit of how you behaved at work last week. Would your colleagues remember you as an ahimsa person or as a violent one? Perhaps you can discuss ahimsa values and how these can be implemented at your work place. If you are an ahimsa person and wish to be counted or share your story, email the writer at ushajesudasan@gmail.com