Brave Ashi

Posted May 29, 2012 from Maldives


“There are so many of them in our society it makes me sick to my stomach that I am human. I am a person that is capable to think, reflect, decide and act. What is wrong with their capacity to think and decide? Bullying is just wrong! Still, I feel somehow at some level it is secretly accepted to benefit some. A dark thought I must say!” Ashi slightly bows her head and kept looking at her feet.

After a long pause she looks up at me and tell me that, “I hate sharing these experiences in regard to my work place bullying. I remind my self that what I give is what I get. Not necessary in the same way as I have treated others yet some how justice will be done. I take comfort in this thought.” She gives a weak smile and softly continues. “ I feel I have done wrong, you see, for them to bully me like this. I know consciously I have not mistreated the people at work. I also know I am not perfect. Some of the consequences are very unnerving and shocking too. I realised that no place is free from bullies. I feel silly that I thought people working in educational institutes will at least refrain from actions of bullying. However, this was not the case.” Ashi, vigorously shakes her head making me feel uneasy to hear what she may have to say.

With a sudden bright smile she continues energetically “ Lets say this is the story of what I am going through right now.” and flashed that contagious smile as if she is now telling a story to an audience. “Some of you may be able relate to this story” and raises her eyebrows at me “for some this could be the norm,” presses her lips hard and makes an expression that I do not understand even after knowing for so long. As if to comfort me she tell me “You know, I mean far worse happens at work place than what is in my story. Anyway, The whole culture of the department I work is toxic. Some staff resigned. Those who stayed are subject to stressed, Some have created health issues. This is my fifth year and I feel so wasted.” She shakes her head slowly as if she she was thinking through or remembering the experiences. Her gaze went far beyond me while I watched her.

After a moment of self thought she started to tell her story again “I started in this department with higher expectations. I perceived that the work place in a developed world with much esteem as I come from the third world.” She laughs and nodded her head in a rhythmic fashions I did not interrupt, Then she explained, “All the negative terminology of harassment, abuse, corruption and bullying are too common in the world I come from though I haven't personally experienced my previous world”. Ashi smiled and being her friend since childhood I still cannot understand this smile that conveys a mixture of emotions. “Oh! I have come to learn that the developed world is far more sophisticated in there means of bullying. Similar to warfare, the American drones to target the selected” Ashi looked up me and she said “I felt as if I was one such target”. “What do you think of drones?” Ashi questioned me in a serious tone. I ignored and kept to task asking her about her situation.

The snapshots below are of some of the repeated incidents of humiliation, domination, unfair exercise of power and creating a sense of fear” These moments impacted on Ashi. I have extracted some incidences from the stories she shared with me during my visit to her.

“One day, I was serving a client and my Supervisor interrupted and addressed the client and openly stated that I was a new staff and knew nothing about the procedure and had much to learn. I was totally humiliated and shocked to be treated in this way in front of the clients. I felt hurt as it was only the previous day she explained the procedure to me and we discussed in a professional manner. With constant humiliation, my self-esteem started to diminished and I started to doubt my self. I forget what I was doing and I cannot concentrate in fear that I may say or do something wrong. I felt helpless when I was regarded as incapable of doing anything.”

“I was really surprised. The Supervisor also ridiculed another staff who was senior in front of me and later stated that she state that 'some people needed a bullying tactic to get things done around'. I was thinking. OMG if this is how she treats and talks about experienced staff what is she going to talk about me. This was an eye opener. I started to fear my supervisor, I check every single thing before I take action. I started to get written instruction to be safe. Being humiliated in front of the clients, added with the sense of fear, my capacity to do this simple job was at risk. I started to panic and took sick leaves to avoid being bullied.”

“As a support staff it gets hard to take break and have lunch on the the dot at 12:30pm and return on the dot 1:00pm even if this was the prescribed rule. The lunch break is for one hour.... we do have flexibility to take even shorter lunch breaks. I tend to take shorter or depending on the clients even late lunch breaks. This particular day my supervisor was there monitoring lunch break. I took five minutes more than the usual scheduled time as I was having lunch with a friend from another unit and missed out on checking time. I walked back to the office and in front of everyone the supervisor blasted me off as if I have done worst crime.”

Ashi talked about the incidents with sadness and shaking her head slowly and kept saying. “These things happens, not once, not twice, many times... her voice softens as she kept repeating the words 'many times” and she continued to gaze away from me.

With and out burst of energy that always surprises me Ashi started to say “I knew my previous work experiences have not prepared me for this. I know it was not right. First, I thought it was the competitive nature and I was too thin skinned. As time passed and I got to know that other staff had similar issues and I was not alone. This gave me strength and I approached a counselling service to get some help to survive as I needed to keep the job and learn how to stand up for myself. You know how I hate looking for new jobs and I do enjoy the work it is just some people.... with psychological help I am back to my normal self” Ashi smiled like a winner even though the suffering was apparent in her eyes. It was painful to see her like this. Ashi is a problem solver and she does not give up or runaway. She is strong and is still working there. She has done what she can do to improve the work environment and now further action will have to be taken from higher authority.

What saddened Ashi most was that the Director turned out to be an autocratic ruler, using micro management strategies that undermines everyone else’s capacity. Ashi raised her concerns of bulling with the Director and he wanted a formal written complain. Ashi did not have any hard evidence and with the guidance of the counsellor she started to change her behaviour towards the supervisor. Changing unwanted behaviour takes time and effort. It is hard replace the habitual bad behaviour with appropriate behaviour.

Ashi shared this with me “I felt better when a similar lunch time incident happened later and the Supervisor was rude and mad at me. I stood up for my slef and replied back as calmly as I possibly can that it was only a few minutes. Not only that I questioned the supervisor about the days that I had lunch late, took less then 30 minutes or miss out on it because there is no one to serve the clients. The Supervisor was stunned I must say. I stood up for myself. I felt good”

Ashi also told me that there was an official enquiry going on in her department and she does not know much about it. This was an external enquiry that was looking at Ashi's department. Ashi was stressed and uncertain of the outcomes which is giving her nightmares and sleepless nights. The enquiry has been going on for months without resolving the issues and further depleting the work environment.

Ashi is in hope that the outcome will be a positive. She also hopes that this incident has given her workplace an opportunity to create a positive and nurturing work environment that looks after the well being of the staff .

There are more stories of Ashi's experiences. This is a short synopsis of her situation. This is meant to inspire people in difficult situations to take action and not be a helpless victim. Do uphold the belief that “I help my self to help others” and trust in God in all matters small and big. Ashi has done her best and she is now waiting patiently with hope. All the best for my best friend Ashi.

Dear Worldpulse friends. Please wish Ashi all the best and good fortune. This post is based on a true story. Names and context has been changed to protect the story teller.

I cannot imagine it has been so long since I wrote here and have connected with you guys. I have been doing different things, like collecting stories, painting and keeping a diary which is proving not easy. Today I share a story form Ashi's life.

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