Some Thoughts On The Long-Term Fallout Of Mobbing

He thought: the worst thing about Vorbis isn’t that he’s evil, but that he makes good people do evil. He turns people into things like himself. You can’t help it. You catch it off him.
“Small Gods” by Terry Pratchett

I’m currently working on the Science@OrganizingCreativity Website. This led me to revisit a few topics. Today, I had a look at my notes about interpersonal conflicts and mobbing.

It’s a touchy subject for me. I did encounter mobbing during my time at school and during my PhD.

School was really ugly for several years. So bad that it took me a while to get over that “experience”. And I think I got over it. After all, schools are like prisons and students act out — unfortunately. Some students have to bear the brunt of that aggression. These “punching bags” leave school with psychological scars — and most of society seems to be okay with it. It makes me wonder whether homeschooling isn’t the way to go, esp. when reading blog postings where homeschooling (apparently) did work well.

But the mobbing I have encountered during my PhD by a “fellow” PhD student was something else.

On the one hand, it was much easier to deal with. Thanks to cameras in modern cellphones it was easy to document at least part of the incidents. It was also easy to find out when I had enough evidence to make a case against that mobbing “colleague”. When this person ordered stuff on the Internet in my name without my knowledge and had it delivered to my office address … yup, then it was time to use that evidence.

I mean, you know when a kid calls another one gay? It was something like that. Only it was an adult who ordered information material for gays and lesbians from an support organization. An adult who a few weeks later got his PhD. So much for intelligence and character in Academia. Nope, men do nothing for me sexually, I guess that’s why he did order this material. In his pea-brained kindergarten mind this probably counted as a “good” attack. Meh, what am I? Five?

Anyway, it was possible to identify from which computer the order was made. The webmaster of that site and the local IT department were helpful in this regard. And not surprisingly, the digital traces lead to the computer of the colleague in question. His supervisor wasn’t amused, but he did not want to renew the contract of that PhD student anyway. So that was that.

But that was the easy part. You get mobbed, you document and collect the evidence. Then you talk with this person’s superior. If that would not have worked, I would have gone one level higher. Or used the legal option. Sure, it sucks if you want to work on your PhD, but still, pretty easy.

What made this experience “something else” and still touchy years later wasn’t that failure of a human being.

It was seeing how two other colleagues reacted. People of whom I had a neutral or even high opinion. You might think that someone who is exposed of having mobbed a colleague gets ostracized. Especially if his mobbing reveals a certain homophobia. Nope. One colleague stressed that “He is nice to me.” and that’s all that counts for her. Woppa. But okay, her choice.

What was really bad was seeing another colleague react. One whom I previously held in high regard. At first she said that she ceased contact with him. But it turned out that she continued seeing him while avoiding the topic if it came up or when asked. Sure, it’s everyone’s own business with whom to spend time. And she did not own me anything. But honesty would have been nice. It’s not a case of antipathy, it’s dealing with a person who tried to deliberately sabotage my life. I think it would have been fair to expect that at least. But no, dissembling it was. And I think dissembling is even worse than publicly stating “He is nice to me.” As self-serving as “He is nice to me” might be, at least it’s honest.

And that is the ugliest side of mobbing in my opinion: Sometimes, it brings out the worst in bystanders. People whom you respected and held in high regard make you want to puke each time you see them. Sure, it might have revealed a character flaw that prevents larger problems in the future. But it’s still a gut-wrenching feeling, even more than 5 years later.

Pity, but I guess that happens when you have high expectations.

For me, there are only two positive consequences of that incident.

The first positive consequence was an increased confidence in my skill in dealing with mobbing. The hard part was noticing when someone starts to actively work against you in what should be a cooperative environment. If done slowly and in a subtle manner, it takes a while to notice. You might notice a drop in motivation and performance, but might not be able to find out why. But once you do notice it, however, it becomes a straightforward case of document and expose.

The second positive consequence was seeing the reactions of all other colleagues who have the same dim view on mobbing as I have. After all, most people did show personal integrity. They did not excuse mobbing with personal benefits or dissembled.

And that — at least — still gives me at least some hope for the future.