I need to say something.  Recover Your Balance is not about bullying. Or redundancy. Or stress. Or burnout. Or any of those negative things that happen at work.  Recover Your Balance is about recovering personal wellbeing.

Yes but… But you said…

Bear with me.

All this came to a head last week, when I guested again on our local community radio station, Vectis Radio. They’re a great bunch of radio professionals who run some fantastic community projects. The flyer for the recorded programme says “Ann Lewis is back giving out advice…”  Oh dear, oh dear, Ms Expert-for-the-Day to the rescue!

I had a sort of Groundhog Day with that phone-in. The subject was bullying, especially workplace bullying. We’ve been there before.  We had two callers. They called last time too, and deserve thanks for doing so. Most contributors filtered themselves through Facebook, so that their voices weren’t heard and the presenter, Ian Mac, could exclude their surnames when he read out their comments. People who are the target of bullies don’t want to risk being recognised, and people who don’t understand think I’m preying on the vulnerable (ouch!).

And here’s the thing.  I realise I don’t want to talk about bullying. To focus on the problem is to miss the point. There are plenty of people out there who are experts on workplace bullying (see last week’s post on the wonderful Eva James’ new book).  Recover Your Balance, and its sister project, Your Great Workplace, are about creating the conditions for personal and organisational flourishing, the exact anthithesis of the bullying culture. THAT’s what we need to talk about.

3000 years of wellbeing…

Wellbeing is hard to define – we’ve been trying since the ancient Greek philosophers first had a go. I’m currently reading the latest book from Belgian psychotherapist and former urology surgeon Thierry Janssen. Le Défi Positif is the third book in a trilogy in which he explores our approaches to illness, healing and wellbeing. In it he starts by exploring the history and philosophy of wellbeing, up to and including the work of Martin Seligman and the Positive Psychology movement.

It’s clear that wellbeing eludes scientific exploration in large part because it is a subjective experience. My wellbeing and yours may be quite different. Janssen’s latest book is only available in French right now, but the first in the trilogy, The Solution Lies Within (La Solution Intérieure), first published in 2006, is available in English. I’ve been recommending it to Recover Your Balance readers, because it talks so elegantly about the importance of our inner response to illness as a factor in our ability to heal.

Seligman, meanwhile, has redefined his view of wellbeing as a result of years of painstaking research and fieldwork. In his latest book, Flourish – a new understanding of happiness and wellbeing, he reframes the topic of positive psychology away from happiness alone, measured by life satisfaction and towards wellbeing, measured by flourishing. The expanded theory removes the link between ‘happiness’ and cheerful mood, and includes those elements that people choose “for their own sake” as contributing to their personal happiness, satisfaction and wellbeing. Here he is at the RSA in London last year.

Let’s ditch the labels

Radio 4’s Today Programme gave air time this morning to Richard Dawkins, talking about an Ipsos-MORI survey commissioned by his organisation, and exploring the beliefs of people who defined themselves as Christian in the UK’s 2011 Census. Dawkins concludes that many can’t be Christian because they don’t go to church or believe in the tenets of their ‘chosen’ religion. Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London thought Dawkins was unfair to ‘trump people’s self-identification’, and hated the ‘culture wars’ engendered by the wider discussion. The bottom line, of course, is about the UK’s identification as a Christian country, and whether religion should be an integral part of public life.

Just as we like to put people into boxes according to religion, diet, health, illness, ethnicity, gender and so-on, so we feel the need to define what those boxes should mean for the individuals in them. This leads to all manner of shoulds and oughts, the accumulation of which can leave people trying to be the label rather than the authentic human being that they are. We really can’t begin to find what we need in order to flourish, until we stop letting everyone from Richard Dawkins to the fitness police call the tune.

So here’s the point

When you’re off balance as a result of workplace bullying or anything else, what matters is that you take responsibility for your own state of mind and your own future.  Often we can’t change our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them.  And we can examine and map what we need in order to recover our wellbeing and to flourish again. That’s what Recover Your Balance  is there to support.

I’m happy to gather and share resources that specifically address particular problems, and we will be developing Recover Your Balance – online to support specific issues over the coming months. But our focus here is on helping you discover, define and restore your personal wellbeing and resilience.

We’re getting out of the bullying box from now on.


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