The Courtney Effect and the Untapped Power of Unions

I’ve been trying to weave together some threads running through my brain. I’ve been reviewing some anti-bullying teaching material. I’ve been pondering the latest episode of The Bachelor. And unions are on my mind.

First, The Bachelor. Yes I watch. I’m not proud of it. Not because I believe its premise of people trying to find true love. No, it’s a bit like watching a train wreck unfold. (If you aren’t familiar with the show, just google it.)

There is one woman vying for the attentions of Ben, the Bachelor, who is willing to do whatever it takes to win the final rose. (again, google.) Courtney’s not interested in making friends with the other women on the show. Each of them dreams of being the one left standing when the show is over, accepting with suitable tears and laughter a romantic proposal from Ben. Not Courtney. She just wants to win. She frequently mimics Charlie Sheen with a mean little high-pitched “Winning!” – something even Charlie has acknowledged was just plain stupid. But it is what she is about – not about love, not even really wanting the guy. Just beating out all the other girls to prove she’s the best, the smartest, the prettiest. The most powerful.

Courtney ignores the show’s rules, not that there’s any attempt to enforce them. She goes to Ben’s room at night. She takes him skinny-dipping. She regularly interrupts his time with the other women on the show. This week, she ran around with so much of her body on display, the producers placed a black bar across her chest so the people who regulate broadcast standards wouldn’t be offended.

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...

Image via Wikipedia

Later, when another woman tried to have her own moment with Ben, Courtney traipsed close by in a tiny white bikini, stretching provocatively in his eye line. Needless to say, he didn’t hear a word the other woman said. Courtney is charming, funny and vulnerable with Ben; mean, vicious and evil when he’s not around. She wants the other women gone and she does her best to make it happen. She’s a bully.

On to bullies. Here’s what we know about them. They are people who intentionally set out to harm someone else. To win at all costs. To take out anyone in their way. Not difficult people. Not people who are unaware of the impact of their behaviour.

Have a look at the questionnaire below (by Valerie Cade, a workplace bullying expert and Certified Safety Professional) designed to help assess whether you’re the target of a bully. The behaviours it identifies are consistent with all the current research on bullying behaviour.

Does the person you’re having trouble with:

  1. Ignore you?
  2. Dismiss what you’re saying or put you down?
  3. Sabotage you or make you look foolish (“forgetting” to tell you important details, setting you up to fail)?
  4. Spread rumours, lies, half-truths?
  5. Act impatient with you, treat you as if you’re incompetent?
  6. Routinely blame and criticize you?
  7. Try to intimidate you (interrupting, contradicting, glaring, acting forcefully, giving you the silent treatment)?
  8. Ridicule, insult or play tricks on you?
  9. Always insist on getting their own way, never apologizing when wrong?
  10. Leave you out of social and/or work situations rather than include you?

It’s an ugly picture. Courtney does it all. But what does she, and bullying, have to do with unions?

Think of the groups – elected and non-elected – who currently hold power. Think of them in the context of neoliberalism. Think of them as bigger, stronger, more powerful Courtneys. And unions as their targets. How many of the bullying behaviours would I check then? Our current political and economic power structures exhibit all the classic behaviours of a bully.

So where does that take me? There are a couple of myths about bullies that are useful to consider. First, if you try to work with bullies respectfully, patiently, collaboratively – they will come around and you will be able to reach a positive resolution. Wrong. Bullies have no interest in win-win outcomes. They want to win. Period. And always at your expense. When one girl tried to apologize to Courtney for badmouthing her to Ben, Courtney rejected her, rudely and harshly. “I don’t forget,” she sneered, “and I don’t forgive.”

Second myth: it’s personal. Except it’s not. Not always. Bullies generally target – and this is borne out by extensive research – people who are respected, good at what they do, creative, well-liked, sometimes with vulnerabilities or insecurities that can be exploited. It’s about taking that power and transferring it – the power of respect – to try to shore up a bully’s own power and self-esteem. Courtney? Check.

Courtney expressed her surprise this week at how easy the other women are making it for her. “They’re not even trying!” she chortled, “Winning!”

The other women are appalled by her behaviour. They don’t want to win the guy by stooping to her level. They judge her actions inappropriate. Offensive. It’s not how they were brought up. They don’t seem to realize they could beat her if they stood together. But it appears the nice girls will finish last. Spoiler websites claim Courtney and Ben are engaged.

Imagine unions now as the other women on The Bachelor. (I know, it’s a stretch, but go with me.) Behaving with emotion. With confusion. With a lack of clarity. Sometimes with self-doubt. And without a strategy. Like the women, unions are making it easy for their tormentors.

Yet unions have power. Untapped power. What if they could harness it? Effectively. Strategically.

What if there was a clear, consistent, coalesced, and constant – constant – campaign to counter the attacks on labour? Proactive and reactive. With every union member, every local trained to carry the messages of the value of workers in society and the unions which represent them. Calmly. Clearly. Knowing others had their backs. What if unions could show how a world without them would look?

What if the messages of working people were the dominant ones in media, mainstream and alternative alike? Many media workers are union members. They share the struggles of working people everywhere. Jobs are disappearing. Wages, seniority, jurisdiction – all are being attacked. They are both activists and allies.

What if unions actively sought out other allies among those with whom they share common cause? Anti-poverty groups, anti-racism groups, community activists. The majority of working Canadians. In a thoughtful and coordinated way. As a movement based on values rather than politics.

And what if non-unionized workers stopped standing silently by while their brothers and sisters are being attacked? Stopped blaming their neighbours for current economic woes because it’s easier than seeking change from the top.

Powerful questions. Powerful possibilities.

What would it take to create this kind of change? Is it even possible?

I don’t have the answers. But I have some thoughts. So does Sweetie. More in a few days from him, expanding on his idea of a values-based movement. I will stop calling him Sweetie in these threads – he’s a very smart, thoughtful man. So meet Dan. (Also, I promise, no more Bachelor metaphors.) And after that, the Aikido Mind. If nothing else, you’ll see some cool video. Maybe it will spark more germs of ideas in people smarter than I.

Now if only the women on The Bachelor could find their power. If only Ben could see through the Courtney effect…  It would be a start.

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About saxbergonstuff

I'm a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter, an auntie. When I'm not focusing on that, I'm an educator, facilitator and content designer. When I feel like it.
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4 Responses to The Courtney Effect and the Untapped Power of Unions

  1. Others are writing about the need for groups sharing common interests to come together. Here’s a good article by Nick Fillmore, a former CBC producer.

  2. Dan (aka Sweetie) says:

    John’s experience is pretty typical and I agree. If Unions want to be relevant they’ve got start remembering why they were created. Check the egos and power trips at the door and focus on the issues that matter.

  3. John Saxberg says:

    I remember that during the Day of Action in Thunder Bay against the Harris government unions and community groups discussed together their strategies. The unions always argued with each other and split. The community groups always used communication skills to pound out a compromise position and presented an united front. The unions always lost, because they could not use their power together, and they realized what was happenning. They met together to hammer out a consistant strategy while the community groups serenaded them with ‘Solidarity Forever”. They simply could not come together. They seemed to have poor communication skills, serious ego problems, and a confrontative style of negotiation. Unions will never have a consistant strategy until they fix these issues.

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