I have been having long-running issues with a co-worker, one that I have been trying to ameliorate for a full six months, ever since starting a new position as a teacher. I don’t want to go into details, other than to say that the relationship has been rocky from the very beginning. I have tried my hardest to keep the peace but doing so is exerting a pretty high emotional toll.
Today, when I finally broke down and told some of my co-workers the specifics of my issues with this co-worker, their response was unanimous.
“This is bullying,” they said. Five teachers, ranging in age from early career to veteran teachers, all saying the same thing.
I always thought bullying was for high schoolers. But bullying doesn’t end with high school. And being raised Mormon is an especially potent combination for bullies and victims.
Growing up in a Mormon community meant an erosion of personal boundaries. Being Mormon means being subjected to yearly interviews by bishops, none of whom have been trained as professional clergy and who aren’t bound to confidence. I had my first interview as a twelve-year old, where I was interviewed by the bishop, whose day-job was as a hospital human resource manager, about my worthiness and personal life. Had I stayed, these interviews would have continued throughout my adult life, had I wanted to remain a Mormon in good standing. Requiring an individual to answer personal questions about their private and intimate life – and to ultimately allow another person make a decision regarding their worthiness, a decision that can have social ramifications within the close-knit Mormon community – is to force individuals to hand their identity and self-worth over to someone else, someone who has the power to refuse you.
People talk. The bishop we had while I was in high school had an especially gossipy extended family. But to refuse an interview with the bishop was unthinkable. You just did it. You did it because you were supposed to and if you didn’t, you were a bad Mormon. And nothing was worse than being a bad Mormon.
Add in to this the teaching that the Mormon authorities, from the local leaders all the way up to the leader Thomas Monson, are given their authority from God, and you have a situation that fosters abuse.
The truth is, I’ve never learned how to stand up to bullies. My strategy is to either grin and bear it or to tell the individual in question to f*ck off. Or to simply walk away. But I’ve never learned how to navigate a working relationship with a bully. I’ve never learned how to face bullies down or discover their weaknesses. I’ve never learned the more diplomatic ways of telling
I’m not sure what my strategy will be with this particular co-worker. Perhaps file a complaint and ask to have her removed from her duties. Or simply point out her behavior, although I think the situation may be a little too far gone for that.
Either way, I need to figure out a way to deprogram the Mormon in me, the one that is too timid to speak out against an authority figure and who is too timid to make trouble.