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Progressive Grievance Parade

Angsty Progressive employee
By: Jim Geraghty – nationalreview.com – June 21, 2022

On the menu today: A fascinating in-depth report observes that “it’s hard to find a Washington-based progressive organization that hasn’t been in tumult, or isn’t currently in tumult,” with these groups “locked in virtual retreats, Slack wars, and healing sessions, grappling with tensions over hierarchy, patriarchy, race, gender, and power.” These horror stories about employees who put their personal grievances and branding ahead of the organization’s mission offer some particularly useful lessons for young people — not just about what kind of employee you want to be, but about what kind of person you want to be.

The Toxic Woke-Scolds

I know this is going to shock you, but it turns out that young, woke progressives are exceptionally hard to work with, and they see each other as hard to work with — in fact, they find each other almost as insufferable and infuriating as we find them. Earlier this month, the Intercept revealed what many of us have long suspected, that having a staff full of outspoken young, woke progressives is making progressive organizations nearly impossible to manage:

That the [Guttmacher Institute] has spent the course of the Biden administration paralyzed makes it typical of not just the abortion rights community — Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and other reproductive health organizations had similarly been locked in knock-down, drag-out fights between competing factions of their organizations, most often breaking down along staff-versus-management lines. It’s also true of the progressive advocacy space across the board, which has, more or less, effectively ceased to function. The Sierra Club, Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change, the Movement for Black Lives, Human Rights Campaign, Time’s Up, the Sunrise Movement, and many other organizations have seen wrenching and debilitating turmoil in the past couple years.

In fact, it’s hard to find a Washington-based progressive organization that hasn’t been in tumult, or isn’t currently in tumult. It even reached the National Audubon Society. . . .

Sometime in the summer, the forward momentum stalled, and many of the progressive gains lapsed or were reversed. Instead of fueling a groundswell of public support to reinvigorate the party’s ambitious agenda, most of the foundation-backed organizations that make up the backbone of the party’s ideological infrastructure were still spending their time locked in virtual retreats, Slack wars, and healing sessions, grappling with tensions over hierarchy, patriarchy, race, gender, and power.

“So much energy has been devoted to the internal strife and internal bullsh** that it’s had a real impact on the ability for groups to deliver,” said one organization leader who departed his position. “It’s been huge, particularly over the last year and a half or so, the ability for groups to focus on their mission, whether it’s reproductive justice, or jobs, or fighting climate change.”

The story is full of spectacular quotes, but perhaps none better than these:

Executive directors across the space said they too have tried to organize their hiring process to filter out the most disruptive potential staff. “I’m now at a point where the first thing I wonder about a job applicant is, ‘How likely is this person to blow up my organization from the inside?’” said one, echoing a refrain heard repeatedly during interviews for this story. . . .

Another leader said the strife has become so destructive that it feels like an op. “I’m not saying it’s a right-wing plot, because we are incredibly good at doing ourselves in, but — if you tried — you couldn’t conceive of a better right-wing plot to paralyze progressive leaders by catalyzing the existing culture where internal turmoil and microcampaigns are mistaken for strategic advancement of social impact for the millions of people depending on these organizations to stave off the crushing injustices coming our way,” said another longtime organization head. “Progressive leaders cannot do anything but fight inside the orgs, thereby rendering the orgs completely toothless for the external battles in play. . . . Everyone is scared, and fear creates the inaction that the right wing needs to succeed in cementing a deeply unpopular agenda.”

How spectacularly disruptive and grievance-obsessed are progressive activists? So bad that even Bernie Sanders told his presidential campaign to stop hiring them, because they created more problems than they solved!

I’ll pause for a moment, so you can wipe away the tears of laughter.

The Intercept article made only a passing reference to the extraordinarily nasty and public tumult at the Washington Post that swirled around Dave Weigel and Felicia Sonmez, and didn’t mention the perpetual drama surrounding Taylor Lorenz, last seen lecturing Matt Yglesias about the alleged horror of joking about his own case of Covid-19. But both cases seem like good examples of the same phenomenon: employees who put their never-ending personal grievances and branding ahead of the organization’s mission, and who are incapable of resolving disputes quickly and quietly behind closed doors.

My home has one teenager and one near-teenager, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what kinds of lessons are important to instill in young people as they approach their first experiences in the workplace.

It’s a free country; believe whatever you want to believe. But for heaven’s sake, don’t be the kind of person who obsesses over anything that could remotely be interpreted as a slight, a microaggression, a lack of respect, or a violation of some unspoken code. You go to work to do a job (and try to do it well), collect a paycheck, and get experience that with luck will lead you to the next job that you like even better. If you get along with your bosses and co-workers, that’s gravy. But your boss is not your parent. Don’t be someone who turns every interpersonal dispute into a grand crusade, someone who can’t let anything go. (I know, I know, I have my own battles with “Irish Alzheimer’s,” where you forget everything except a grudge.)

You don’t want to be the kind of person who is always dwelling on some sort of problem with a co-worker or boss. Seeking out reasons to be upset and angry makes you a miserable person, and that often makes everyone else around you miserable as well! How you feel about the state of your life, your workplace, your community, your state, your country, and the world will be largely determined by what you look for and choose to focus on. As a wise warrior once said, “your focus determines your reality.” (Okay, that was Qui Gon Jinn in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and he was killed shortly after he said it, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong.)

One of the hard but important truths in life is that very few people care that much about your feelings. Oh, there’s a low, decent-society baseline of care — everyone hopes you’re feeling well, not battling depression, etc. But in the end, your mental health is your responsibility, not other people’s. There’s a limit to how much others are willing to bend over backward so that you feel happier. Your mission is to figure out how to thrive in a world full of people who will not be what you want them to be. You can’t control what other people do; you can only control how you react to them.

In Josh Barro’s terrific “your workplace is not Fleetwood Mac” essay, he observed:

I would finally note one thing: Organizations primarily staffed by conservatives have various problems, but they don’t have this one. And this phenomenon extends well outside the media, to liberal-staffed nonprofit and political organizations, where leaders are terrified of their employees’ potential outbursts and are therefore letting them run roughshod over strategic goals — and especially over prudent decision-making that might help win elections but do not meet every checkbox of the left-wing keyboard warriors who could cause so much trouble inside and outside the organization.

Lord knows, conservative organizations, including the one I work for, have their own share of quirky personalities and internal disagreements, often passionate ones. But if, as it seems, organizations primarily staffed by conservatives have employees that are generally better team players, we have a fascinating inversion of the expected dynamic. In a workplace full of folks who classify themselves as rugged individualists, those folks are in fact willing to put aside their personal desires and feelings from 9 to 5 or so, for the sake of participating in a smoothly running, effective organization. Meanwhile, the workplace full of self-professed collectivists, who believe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, is increasingly debilitated by runaway narcissism, petty infighting, and self-absorbed grievance-mongering.

Finally, on that last term, I am reminded of an observation about the psychological state of mass shooters by Willard Gaylin, a preeminent psychology professor, which I wrote about a few years ago. Gaylin discusses the dangers of “grievance collecting” in his book Hatred: The Psychological Descent into Violence:

Grievance collecting is a step on the journey to a full-blown paranoid psychosis. A grievance collector will move from the passive assumption of deprivation and low expectancy common to most paranoid personalities to a more aggressive mode. He will not endure passively his deprived state; he will occupy himself with accumulating evidence of his misfortunes and locating the sources. Grievance collectors are distrustful and provocative, convinced that they are always taken advantage of and given less than their fair share. . . .

Underlying this philosophy is an undeviating comparative and competitive view of life. Everything is part of a zero-sum game. Deprivation can be felt in another person’s abundance of good fortune.

As I wrote at the time, “At the heart of the grievance collector’s worldview is that he is not responsible for the condition of his life; a vast conspiracy of malevolent individuals and forces is entirely at fault. There is always someone else to blame. . . .”

This isn’t to say that every whiny, self-absorbed, irresponsible employee will turn into a mass shooter. But there are healthy ways of dealing with life’s challenges, and unhealthy ones — and these progressive organizations appear to be filled to the brim with toxic personalities.

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Source: Progressive Workplace: The Progressive Grievance Parade | National Review

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