being undone · emotional labour · goals · hope · ideas for change · Uncategorized

Connection / Disconnection

In a fit of post-admin-role freedom, I booked myself to go to sleep away camp halfway through Orientation Two Days. I flew away to Halifax, on points, to join my friend Megan for four days at Big Cove Camp, the oldest such camp in Canada. The camp was called Make. Do. Camp. And they took away our phones.

It was a transformative experience.

I remember camp as a child: sing-alongs, campfires, hikes, group activities. I remember feeling … nervous, disconnected, not-quite-right, not-quite-fit. I did not feel, as it were, hailed (in the Althusserian sense) by camp: everyone seemed social and outgoing, everyone was chipper and enthusiastic, everyone had lots of friends and no inner turmoil. There were things I loved about camp: being outside, swimming, the rhythm of the days tied to cycles of daylight, and so that’s why I went, and only with a friend–we’d have each other at least, even if there were cliques and we didn’t fit in any of them.

But here’s the thing. I have never felt so connected to a group of strangers in my life. Never so safe, never so seen and supported. Part of it was getting rid of the phones and the safety line they provided, but much of it was due to incredibly thoughtful facilitation, and there’s something to learn from this that I can bring back to my teaching.

From the opening ceremony forward, camp facilitators, directors, leaders, and minders opened up spaces of difference and welcome. They invited us to come in, in all of our differences, a huge list of identities and feelings and orientations and histories. We could be a group, they suggested, while remaining in substantial ways complicatedly different from one another. This was magic to hear. I felt named and seen and as a result could not retreat to my usual space of meteoritical, ironic, abstract distance. They hailed me: nervous, skeptical, hopeful, tired. The welcome, in seeking to name all the ways we could arrive in the space in all our differences, took a really long time, as they sought to acknowledge and celebrate these differences. And we all sat there, rapt: we had been seen and noticed and named and welcomed.

It is amazing how a sense of group feeling can develop from a 15 minute recitation of all the ways we are different from one another. Instead of jostling for space or recognition or feeling excluded, we become more free to find a strand of connection.

I’ve been thinking, as a result, of how I welcome my classes to the term. What totalizing assumptions do I make about them that might limit or exclude them, that might lead to ironizing, to checking out, to hurt feelings or disconnection? How can I welcome and celebrate everyone’s differences so that they feel hailed into our shared project?

I have been trying to start the term by inviting personal communication from students, creative work that situates them in their own contexts, on their own terms. Then I summarize for the class all the different kinds of difference we see, and how wonderful it is, and how little we can know about one another just from looking at a list of names, and majors, and year level. I think I could do more, I’m wondering how. But the kinds of work that people can do when they feel seen, heard, understood, and recognized is incredible, and I want more of that possibility in my own teaching.

emotional labour · goals · silence

How to Handle Bad Behaviour at Work


Someone I know once had an argument with a colleague. The colleague was technically also my friend’s manager/supervisor. The argument was about an intellectual problem and was not personal. But it did get heated. They were sitting on opposite sides of a desk. At one point, the colleague threw a book at my friend. To be more accurate, the colleague picked up a big heavy book, and threw it across the desk in the general direction of my friend. The book bounced on the desk, skidded across the remaining surface of the desk, and landed on the floor.
This is where I am pretty sure I would have cried. Maybe I would have cried and run out of the room. Maybe I would have cried and run out of the room and felt crappy.
But that is not what my friend did. He looked at the book, looked at his colleague, and did not move. He waited for his colleague to get up, go around the desk, pick up the book, return it to the desk, and sit back down to continue the discussion.
I think a lot about that story because I want to remember that, should anyone at work decide to throw a book at me, I should resist the urge to cry and run out of the room. I should stand my ground.
This post is about bad behaviour. By bad behaviour, I am not euphemistically referring to behaviour that is criminal and/or in violation of various campus codes of conduct. I am talking about things that are unacceptable, but not illegal. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of thing that I find especially shocking in the workplace because it is not the kind of behaviour that I expect from generally polite, educated, and typically nice people. But it happens. I have now seen plenty of it. And, I admit, I am shocked every time.
And then I remember that I have to resist the urge to cry and run out the room. I have to wait for the other person to pick that book up off the floor. I have to maintain my dignity and hold my ground. It is really hard to do.
But, over the years, I’ve learned a few things. They are not the complete solution. But they have helped me. Here are five steps for handling bad behaviour in the workplace.
1. Recognize that it is bad behaviour, and that such behaviour is unacceptable.
This is harder than you might think. I am usually so busy being shocked that it takes me a long while to realize what’s happening. But it’s important to just see it for what it is. Sometimes, when someone is being awful, I have found it helpful just to say to myself, over and over again in my head, that is bad behaviour. It becomes a kind of mantra. I find it sort of grounding.
2. Do not engage by reciprocating.
No point in going down to their level. Make them come up to yours. Engaging with bad behaviour – let’s say yelling at the person who is yelling at you – only reinforces it.
3. Remember that the best response is often a silent one.
Sometimes, totally hypothetically, it might be that, as one of two Asian faculty members in your workplace, you might be mistaken for each other. You might have someone ask you about her recent book. You might have someone ask you about that great course she taught. You might be in a meeting and have someone ask for response when she is not on the committee and not in the room. Here, silence, sometimes even a bemused and quizzical silence, is golden.
4. Document, document, document.
Sometimes this stuff happens so fast it’s hard to remember that it even happened. Or it is so fast and so egregious that you wonder if it happened at all. Write it down. Write an email to a colleague. Maybe write to that person. Identify specifically what happened. It might make you feel better. It might not. But it might help you identify patterns of behaviour. And, if things ever get worse, it’s good to have, however one-sided, a record of events.
5. Take up physical space.
Breathe. Stand or sit up straight. Keep your chin up.