During my morning commute, I heard the radio report about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman, and by various accounts, talented violinist, who committed suicide after his roommate videotaped and broadcast on the internet his sexual encounter with another male. This news came only a few days after a second contestant, Joseph Cerniglia, from the reality show “Hell’s Kitchen” also committed suicide. The show’s host, Gordon Ramsay, is known for his foul language, and berating and belittling treatment of aspiring chefs.
After my commute, I started my day by completing our annual compliance training courses. You know the ones: Security, International Trade, Ethics and Behavior. The ethics one was mostly well done with video vignettes of various scenarios followed by questions designed to make you think. The harassment portion of training however was unfortunately too simplistic with obvious wrong-doing on the part of the perpetrator, and obvious inaction on the part of the manager as well as other co-workers.
Particularly after hearing about the recent suicides by people who ostensibly have been harassed, this latter behavior, the inaction by co-workers and managers, struck me. We don’t need to teach employees who to report harassing behavior to, we need to teach our employees, our children, our population how to hold each other accountable. As individuals, we need to hold accountable those who are not doing a good job of self-policing, whether they are family members, team members, community members, or society. We’ve got to stop relegating responsibility to police, managers, or other authorities to address people who are behaving badly. We need to stop averting our eyes, grinning and bearing it, or worst yet, perpetuating bad behavior by consuming it in TV shows that are openly hostile and disrespectful. A recent edition of Psychology Today highlighted a study that showed a correlation between domestic violence and watching reality shows.
We need not simply to teach people to behave like decent human beings who are respectful to one another, but we also need to teach individuals to hold each other accountable. We need to teach people to have the strength and fortitude to have those uncomfortable, difficult, and downright tough conversations with those who are not acting appropriately.