Friday, 21 December 2018

Bullies, 'Takers' & Ostracism

This post looks at how living by my core values can see me excluded from groups and how - through exploring the early online community The Well - these issues are by no means new... But research shows that social rejection is pretty painful (especially when you've invested a lot of time and effort), and looks at how ostracism in schools is shaping the attitudes of the tech community ...and can also have tragic consequences.

In my ACEing Made to Stick post I wondered how much of a lack of that all important 'sense of belonging' Scottish school girl Aqsa Mahmood felt when deciding to become an ISIS recruiter... The extracts in this post provide evidence of what social rejection does to people.

Since September 2015 I have being Using these Core Values and they have been applied regardless of the audience

  • Whether an Education Secretary
  • The so called 'life long family friends' (Their words, not mine) who claim they were #Shoulder2Shoulder with me (Again their words not mine)... before blocking me and deleting all posts and Tweets that featured our 'collaboration'... which effectively amounted to playing on my kind nature and taking all they could.
  • Or an idea that I work on for 3 years but if others ignore the recommended project guidelines and/or norms but then take over ...and just make stuff up and about how it all came together.

I've been taken in a fair bit by people with their compliments and flowery words... that is, of course, until they have gotten all the time, ideas and connections they can out of me, then it's

'Thank you very much... See ya sucker!'
(Indeed, sometimes there is not even a 'Thank you very much.' Lol) 


If you then have the gall to call people out on how their words and actions don't quite match up... you soon find yourself blocked (Even when it's accounts that you created and developed for 6 months before those people got involved with a project you have worked on over the course of a 3 year period?!).

I can't do much if others don't "Own Their Words," the mantra of The Well and the topic of my #DigCitSummitUK Closing Remarks post... but I do have a choice in how I react.

I have called people out on their BS... I also have qualitative and quantitative that suggests this is not uncommon in education communities on social media, which is part of the reason I'm writing about my experiences in this post.

I'm looking at some new projects and - as usual - before starting the planning stages, I have reviewed reports about The Well and was re-reading Howard Rheingold's (@hrheingold) 'Virtual Communities' (Howard featured in Michelle Cordy's 2016 ISTE Keynote) and saw that NodeXL's (@NodeXL) Marc Smith (@Marc_Smith) had done his Masters Thesis on The Voices of the Well.

I've read this document three times in the last 48 hours and noticed how:

1) The issues I've experienced are not new
2) That my reaction wasn't in any way unusual... In fact it would appear I have been entirely predictable


Indeed some commentators highlight that the reason Silicon Valley was such a collaborative place in the early days was because of William Shockley

"Shockley was such a massive asshole it is really hard to know where to start. He is most famous as the inventor of the point-contact transistor that would d​efine modern electronics. The achievement led to the establishment of Silicon Valley, and also won him the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics.
But according to his partners John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, with whom he shared the Nobel,
 Shockley​ was a total fraud. They claimed that they had created the first working transistor without him, and only tacked his name on it after he threw a tantrum. According to Brattain, this photo from a publicity shoot for the transistor was "the first and last time William Shockley ever laid hands on it.

It's no surprise, then, that Shockley's collaborators kept fleeing him to found​ their own companies (one of ​which was Intel). It was simply impossible to tolerate Shockley's unbearable jerkness of being. He would publicly fire e​mployees, humiliate them with demotions, or try to take credit for their ideas." 
Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Jerks

5 Beloved Scientists Who Were Actually Bullies


This mirrors Nolan Bushnell's observations in 'Finding the Next Steve Jobs' and how the world is filled with poseurs.

"One of the biggest lessons I've learned over the years is that the business world (and by extension, the world itself) is filled with poseurs. these people are quite clever at figuring out what you want them to say, and then saying it exactly the way you want to hear it.

I first learned about the onmipresence of phonies during the early years of Atari. The custom chip business was very difficult and time consuming. And because it could take at least a year to get a completed custom chip working, a whole cadre of people posing as chip designers would always find ways to leave the company or get fired before the chip ever worked. Steve Jobs once told me that there were many employees at Apple who never got a single chip working. I told him it was the same at Atari. These people were able to go from job to job to job, doing something that seemed creative but yielding zero output. I remember one guy whose nickname became "I Almost Have It." Every time we'd ask if his chip was ready, that's what he'd say.

You have to be wary of poseurs. So how do you recognise them?

For one thing, don't rely solely on credentials in hiring. In the chip world, for example, someone can have terrific credentials in chip design without any ability to get a chip engineered. Such poseurs know how to build up a terrific looking resume. you'll soon find out it's their major talent.

The poseur's fundamental skill is the bluff. For some reason they don't feel a need to go past that, which is why they are easily unmasked. At Atari, I once hired two people who came from Hewlett-Packard. At the time, HP was considered the best company in the field. If you'd landed one of it's executives, you felt pretty lucky. These guys were like butter: so smooth, so polished, so frictionless. It turned out that they didn't know how to do anything except shine at an interview, and, once on the job, take credit for what their underlings did.

All of us have been taken in by poseurs at one point or another. The trick is to learn from the experience rather than endlessly repeat it" Nolan Bushnell, Finding the Next Steve Jobs


Any time I experience this kind of thing I make a conscious effort to ramp up my 'giving' because, as Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) highlights in To be a Good Leader, you don't have to be a jerk

"People who have gotten burned too many times. In learning to stick up for themselves, they've over corrected [and become an ass hole]"

But I am aware of educators who have had similar experience with working on Twitter chats, Edcamps and/or other unconferences and then get a little more wary and less collaborative as a result.

Like the comment to Gerard above from Voices from The Well, any time I have felt people were using my collaborative nature to build their own online reputation based on my time, efforts and creativity... I've been just as clear about how I've felt about the situation.

And if people decide to make stuff up about me, my involvement, contribution or any he said/she said gossip, I remind myself of Plato's wise words


A couple of failed attempts, you might think... Well... Yes... and No.

Yes, because the projects didn't fulfill their potential.

No, because:

1) Marc's Voices of the Well highlights how tough (and fragile) these movements, projects and communities can be.

2) I'm learning all the time

3) Through examples like William Shockley, we know that the shared experiences of collaborating with an ass hole can lead to empathy and bonding of those who survived working with horrible people like him.

4) Finally, Sam Conniff Allende (@SamConniff) highlights in Be More Pirate (@BeMorePirate) how this is a typical scenario:

"In the workshops we run, this second stage is where things really get started, we break into crews and a sense of mutiny begins to fill the room. Making new rules can be complex, but that's not where we start; the first thing to do is get a crew to choose the one rule they collectively most want to break, and then begin the task of remaking it.

In this challenge, we've seen things get pretty heated; crews fight, split re-form and commit to actual rule breaking there and then. We find that when you really reconnect with that rule you know needs breaking, and actual alternatives begin to emerge, with a crew ready to change them, pirates begin to get serious" Sam Conniff Allende, Be More Pirate (P106)

I've been working on the same ideas since my first blog post in 2012... So it's just a case of continuing to get the experience... and finding people with that all important (and extremely elusive) combination of:

1) Shared values and
2) A shared vision.

If and when I've 'Told it like it is,' this has been very much for the reason that Howard Rheingold highlighted on The Well and the Tweet at the start of this post... in the hope of trying to warn others about what my experiences are and to articulate why I don't trust this person and/or that group?

HOWEVER... have I gone about articulating this in the right way? Erm... Perhaps... 'Most definitely NOT,' is the best answer to that question.

The reason I have not gone about things the right way can be found in 'The Ostraciser' chapter in Dexter Dias's book The Ten Types of Human.

But even if I had executed things better, the Kathy Bolkvac example demonstrates that you don't get any medals even if you take difficult decisions... Even if you are right.

On the other hand, as the Ten Types of Human extract from last post highlights via the brave women in post-earthquake Haiti, if there are enough whistle blowers coming together and shining a light on a situation... it can make a difference.

What's the alternative... a world with more Donald Trumps, Steve Bannons, Nigel Farages, Boris Johnstons poisoning the well nationally, as well as all the William Shockley's out there benefiting from others time and collaborative nature?


"They took the benefit of my work and made me contribute it as a gift" Ayn Rand's Howard Roark re: Cortlandt design

“A house can have integrity, just like a person...and just as seldom" Howard Roark

The rest of this post include extracts from Live Work Work Work Die and 'The Ostraciser' in Ten Types of Humans... I wonder if we'll see any game changing and/or global edchange as a result of these extracts?

I hope educators take on board the long term effects that being ostracized and socially rejected has on their students... speaking from experience: It fucking hurts! Check out Elon Musks experiences.

Elon Musk was Bullied and Lonely as a Kid - Then he Found Computers & Business

In September I read Lois Lowry's book The Giver and Corey Pein's 'Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley'... and when hearing that people like Peter Thiel have acquired New Zealand Citizenship and their private island there, you see how close a world of people living in Lowry's book is.

Live Work Work Work Die.
Justine Tunney 2014 blog post addressing "Silicon Valley and geeks in general" called for a "Nerd Nationalism" motivated primarily by personal resentment.


"We don't fit into this society and we never will... We're placed in public schools that bore us - when we're not being assaulted and ridiculed by bullies. We have trouble procreating because society finds us sexually repulsive. We're ridiculed in the press. We're unwanted in our communities. Angry kids throw bricks at our buses when we go to work. We're denied a voice in our government

...But a new day had dawned. We've grown powerful thanks to the tech industry. In many ways, I feel that geeks already rule the world, we just haven't figured out how to reign. So we need to up our game, get smart, and start asking ourselves what we can do to put the fear in all these people" Corey Pein (P232)

Chilling stuff! You should see the attitudes to 'The Aristocracy of Brains"...Be nice to the geeks and nerds kids, they just might be our new rulers soon.

Pokemon Go

"So, last question, and I want to get a little more personal. Why are you so obsessed with maps and location? 

…I grew up in a really isolated town in West Texas, so I kind of grew up daydreaming about other places …And I think a lot of people who grow up in small towns share that feeling of ‘I can’t wait to go out and see the wider world.’" John Hanke, Inside the Mind of Google's Greatest Idea Man 

The rest of this post includes extracts from The Ten Types of Human... With Nolan Bushnell highlighting that, like Elon Musk exemplifies, the bullied sometimes get to have the last laugh. Who can blame them if they 'can't wait to go out and see the world' then prefer to live in a homogeneous community of techies given these horrible early experiences.

The Ten Types of Human: The Ostraciser 

Big Brother 10

Sree Dasari applied for Big Brother 10 in 2009... but things did not go well for him... He was treated as an outsider. His heavy Indian accent was ridiculed by Marcus Akin. Dasari frequently misread social cues and misinterpreted the fragile social politics of the house. He earned the collective opprobrium of housemates by drinking the alcohol allowance of Russian resident, Angel. The Russian boxer was a teetotaler anyway, but it made no difference: the group considered that Dasari violated the norm. He was perceived as a disruptive and destabilizing presence in the House.

...When he was evicted he then had to run the gauntlet of a different kind... He was met with a deafening barrage of boos... He said in his eviction show that he didn't care about being evicted as it 'wasn't about winning or losing. It was about the experience.' A few weeks later, Sree Dasari slashed his wrists. (P93)

"Humans are animals. I think we all live under the threat of being punished. On all sorts of levels, in all sorts of ways. It does govern our behavior. Being ejected hurts" Marian Wong (Senior Lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences at Wollongong University and studies Goby fish).

...As we speak an article comes up on my Twitter feed 'How Loneliness can affect your mental health.' A study reveals that social isolation can increase your risk of having a stroke or coronary disease by 30%.

'I feel like I am completely unlovable,' says Miley, aged 32, who constantly suffers from depression.

'These are very real social problems,' Wong says. 'The shame and shunning across social animal species, same thing - to maintain the norms. We humans are such a social species that ostracism is bound to have a very powerful effect on us.'

In what way? To do what?

'To make us do what we wouldn't otherwise do. Our research shows just how amenable social animals are to being manipulated. That's the thing: the group norm influences us, whether the norm is a good one...or not' (P104)

To be evicted from a group, any group, involves a kind of social death. (107)

Analysis of the historical, anthropological and cross-cultural records attests to the ubiquitous presence of human ostracisation across time and space. In humans it can occur in a highly formalised fashion... such as shunning among close-knit communities like the Amish. It will be found in virtually every children's playground and in other kinds of playgrounds: The Internet and social media.

...Living with other human beings, as well as being the solution [To defense from other animals etc], is also a significant survival problem: the perennial problem of other people.

UN Police Officer - Exposing Bosnian Sex Traffickers

Kathy Bolkovac UN International Police Task Force, Drafted an email setting out everything she'd discovered about the abuse in Bosnia (Young girls being trafficked and authorities turning a blind eye). She sent it out to dozens of senior staff - both DynCorp and UN - all the way to the head of the UN mission in Bosnia. Her hope was it would burst the bubble. With it people would be brought to their senses. They'd wake up. How could they not?

...But this is what happened.... The abuse of hundreds of young women went on. The more Kathy spoke out about sexual enslavement, the more she was frozen out by colleagues. She was isolated in the cafeteria. She was avoided as if she carried a contagion..

People started interfering with her files... Papers went missing... Superiors removed her from cases... Her investigations were sabotaged... Her position became intolerable. She was redeployed, away from the Trafficking Office and human rights work. She was reassigned to check radios and answer the phone. Then she was suspended. A series of allegations were leveled against her. Then she was dismissed. The death threats began.

'You better be prepared to lose your job, lose your career, lose your financial savings, to lose your retirement, because you will be discredited, and they will do everything they can to harm you.' (118)

Kathy Bolkovac had been trying to expose the truth. But now she was out. She was ostracised. She sued DynCorp for unlawful dismissal. Her claim was that she was demonised and ostricised because she had made what in the law is called a 'protected disclosure'. She blew the whistle. It led to a bitterly contested court case. During the proceedings, DynCorp admitted that three of its staff had been sacked for using prostitutes. One of them, the company accepted, had 'bought' a 'sex slave' and kept her in his apartment. He'd paid $700.

Bolkovac won. The court found that DynCorp had sacked her because of her efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking cases and exposing corruption.. The tribunal chair said,

'It is hard to imagine a case in which a firm has acted in a more callous, spiteful and vindictive manner'

But Kathy has found ot impossible to resume her career in international law enforcement.. She has become a 'marked woman'.. None of the officers implicated in the sex trafficking and prostitution in Bosnia has ever been prosecuted. DynCorp subsequently won a series of lucrative military contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti, among other places. DynCorp announced being awarded a US State Department contract to provide policing services in Iraq three days after dropping its appeal against Kathy's unfair dismissal verdict.

'When you blow the whistle,' Kathy says, 'history and experience over the years show that the odds will be stacked against you. That's what I've learned from the whistle blowers I've met Since'

Kathy Bolkvac was in the end excluded from the group. She has not subsequently returned. She did carry a contagion. It was the truth. In the opaque twilight world of illicit brothels and backstreet bars in which young women were incarcerated and outside which international agency vehicles would pull up for business, she had indeed violated a norm. She had dared challenge the squalid status quo. She had disrupted the quiet complicity of the strange micro-world that was raw and ravaged post-conflict Bosnia.

If ostracism is indeed used by group members as a form of threat management and social control, in the dysfunctional world that operated almost autonomously in post-conflict Bosnia, Kathy Bolkovac was considered a threat. Not only was she a threat, but the truth was.

It was too dangerous for the status quo; disastrous to the perpetuation of the harmful and profitable practices that had flourished following the international intervention. It would threaten jobs, careers and wallets, greed, lust, power; it would call into sharp question the legitimacy of the international mission.

How could a risk of that magnitude be managed? By ostracizing the messenger.

There is another reaction, of being seen not to conform, of not belonging, may have contributed to the institutional indifference to the human rights abuses that Kathy Bolkovas uncovered. Other people suffer; we stay within the safe circle. And so it continues: the circle and the suffering.

It feeds on our need to fit in. It preys on the pain that keeps on giving. It takes the courage of a Kathy Bolkovac to defy it.

Eventually Bolkovac's tireless advocacy of the rights of young exploited women led to officials suspected of being implicated in the trafficking having to resign. More needs to be done, much more. None of them were prosecuted.

'Charges were never brought because no one allowed any of the investigations to be completed' Kathy says

'You know, over the years people keep asking me where I got the strength from. How I did it and didn't back down, even though I was shut out, targeted, attacked. Well, it's a pretty simple thing...Right is right and wrong is wrong... I think it pretty much comes down to that.'

Compare this with the news today that a parent in Scotland got accused of bullying their local council when she complained about bullying at her child's school?!

Frozen Out Frisbee

Man (Kipling Williams Professor of Psychology at Purdue University) and dog were taking a rest on the grass by a lake, sitting on a blanket, pretty much minding their own business, when something rolled along the ground and into his back. Williams turned to see it was a Frisbee.

'I turned and saw two guys waiting for it. So I picked it up and threw it back to them and thought nothing more of it. Who wouldn't do that? But to my surprise, the guy who caught it threw it back towards me. We didn't speak, but we started playing Frisbee.'

In the complex lexicon of park politics, where we come up close to unsorted strangers, it was, Williams says, 'an invitation'. The game proceeded with the usual forehand flicks, backhands and hammer throws. Then after about two minutes, and just as suddenly, the men stopped tossing the Frisbee in William's direction.

'At first, I found it kind of funny. Like they were playing around with me. Then I realized that Frisbee is not heading in my direction again.'

Williams was out.

'The thing made me feel foolish. Bad, tremendously bad. It was awkward, a kind of humiliation. I felt hurt.'

He tried to rationalise it. Just a few moments before he didn't even know the existence of these people. In all likelihood would never see them again.

'So why am I feeling this bad for something this trivial? Why should I actually care?'

Kip Williams knew it was important; he knew it spoke to something important to us. It hurt him.

'By cutting me out of the game, they made me feel invisible... as though I had never existed'

The Frisbee game had only lasted 2 minutes. How and why did that rejection actually hurt? He wondered. What kind of pain was it? He knew he had to bring it under experimental control.

Social ostracism is something he had wanted to research for 8 years and hadn't worked out a way to do it. Now a Frisbee game gave him a clue. He would play Frisbee. Cyber versions of it.

'It was a really clean way to manipulate it in a lab'

In the laboratory at Purdue, Williams and his colleagues began using a number of strategies to manipulate human encounters. They loaded the dice in carefully constructed cyber games; direct the pain; exclude some volunteers; have others ignored or rebuffed. Some people are ejected from chat rooms. For others, it's simply the sting of an averted glance. Whatever the device, it's directed at delivering social pain.

'We wanted to see how minimal we could make this event and still get feelings of ostracism' Williams says.

He succeeded. There is now a substantial body of experimental research documenting how the brain registers this pain. The research shows that we recruit the same or similar neural systems as when we experience trauma that is physical. Thus brain structures are activated such as the anterior insula, which assesses pain severity, and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to the emotion of physical pain.

Naomi Eisenberger (UCLA Psychology Department) states in her article 'Broken Hearts and Broken Bones' that although we are able to distinguish between the two types of pain, it appears that they share neurobiological and neural substrates... When people speak of social rejection, they use phrases like 'he hurt my feelings,' or 'she broke my heart.' This applies across cultures, with social pain described in terms of physical pain in almost every language. In fact, over the course of evolutionary history, she believes, the social bonding/attachment system may have 'piggy-backed' onto the physical one. Thus the mental module may not have developed independently. It may not be entirely freestanding. But the social pain people describe is more than just a metaphor. It actually hurts.

One of the remarkable findings of this line of research is that for all our bluster and posturing, as Williams says, social pain

'Hurts us all about the same in its initial effect and personality doesn't appear to make much difference at first. The variance is in how we cope, that's where the individual difference kicks in, but we are all hurting about as much.'

Pain is a method of social control. It is used across the animal kingdom by all kinds of social animals. Groups that ostracize deviant or onerous members become more cohesive. Concomitantly, however, the prospects for ostracized animals are not good.

'When you're out, you're eaten' Marian Wong

In 2013 Joshua Unsworth was in Year 11 at St Cecilia's Roman Catholic High School in Longridge, Lancashire. He lived with his mother and father in a converted farmhouse in the nearby ancient village of Goosnargh. But Joshua was also on Ask.FM. The site is a social media hub created by two Russian entrepreneurs, Ilya and Mark Terebin, the sons of a Red Army soldier. It is based in Riga, Latvia, beyond real regulation. Controversially, the site allows users to post comments or questions to other users anonymously. This feature has been called by child protection charities a 'stalker's paradise'

While he was on ask.fm, Joshua was repeatedly told over a period of time that no one liked him. One of the messages read,

'Honestly no one cares for you even your parents don't want you, there gonna put you in care'

On 4th April 2013, at 6.50am, Joshua Unsworth was found on land behind the family's farmhouse. He had hanged himself. Paramedics were called but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Just months before these events, Josh posted a YouTube video in which he said he'd seen how much despair there was on social media among young people. He said he'd come up with an idea to help. He would try and support anyone who felt isolated and alone by posting his mobile number; he offered anyone who needed it 'a friendly chat.' Joshua was 15 years old when he died.


In 2000, Williams and colleagues published a study he had conducted with colleagues at Purdue. Using a computerized version of the Frisbee throwing in the park that he called Cyberball, they had 1,486 people play a ball-toss game. The cover story they told participants was that the study was interested in 'mental visualization' of who was playing, what the temperature was like, and it was irrelevant who got the ball. In fact, it was all about who got the ball. After a few early inclusions, the research volunteer would be excluded as the others players on the screen carrier on without them - as if the volunteer was no longer there. Invisible. Those who suffered this social rebuff - albeit a virtual one - when subsequently interviewed reported significantly reduced levels of self esteem, control, belonging and meaning in their life. It wasn't 'real': It was a virtual game with anonymous others they did not and would never meet. Nevertheless they experienced it as real pain.

'This was in contrast to those who were included, so it is a statistically reliable reduction. Something real happened' Williams says.

Even when some selected players were in fact computer-generated and not other humans down the cyberconnection, they still were adversely affected. This led Williams and his colleagues to conclude this was a pretty 'primitive' reaction, something deep down.

'We could see it. They were in an MRI magnetic chamber, and their brain activities when they didn't get the ball. We could see a significant activation of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex which is the same region of the brain that is activated when people experience physical pain'

There are now over 175 published papers of studies or analyses of Cyberball alone. People have been studies playing it from the ages of 7 to 85. In one parallel study in the Netherlands, participants kept feeling the pain of rejection, even when being passed the ball would cost them financially. People continued to want to play with others even if the game involved tossing an imaginary explosive that could at any moment obliterate everything.

'Think of it this way, it's the conceptional equivalent of feeling bad when you're not invited to play Russian roulette. That's how strong the urge is' Kip Williams

Ostracism threatens our need to feel we belong, that we are worthy of attention - are not invisible. It is a pain, Williams says, 'that keeps on giving.' The reaction to such social rejection can be both fundamental and fierce.

On Wednesday 24th November 2004, it was the first period of the last day of school before Thanksgiving at Valparaiso High School, Indiana.

James Lewerke, a 15 year old class member, offered to close the classroom door and turn off the lights for the video. He stood. His teacher, Ashley Dobis, daughter of the State Representative Chet Dobis, thought he was being polite. Students tended to behave well with her. They liked her. So when Miss Dobis gave permission, Lewerke got up. He was a generally quiet boy with pretty good grades. But when he turned to face the class, Dobis says, 'He just had a look in his eyes.' James Lewerke pulled out a machete and a serrated tree saw.

He slashed 7 of his classmates with the weapons.

As he rushed out of the room, several courageous teachers tackled him. One of them kicked a weapon along the school corridor. Later Lewerke told the police that he targeted his fellow pupils indiscriminately because

'They were all the same to him'

In the aftermath of his rampage, it was reported by the Indianapolis Star that

'He was so invisible at High School this fall that students who sat next to him didn't even know his name'

'To repair the pain of invisibility, we may provoke other people into paying attention to us, to force others to recognize our existence. Ostracism is a thread that weaves through case after case of school violence' Kip Williams

In 2003, Mark Leary and colleagues published meta-analysis of school shootings in the US since 1995. They called it, 'Teasing, Rejection, and Violence.' They found that 87% of incidents had as a major contributory factor acute or chronic social rejection. In that period, 40 children had been shot dead in their school corridors and classrooms.

'They are past wanting to be liked or readmitted into society, they may even want to be immortalised for their actions, even their death. By doing what they're doing they're going to get noticed. They'll be invisible no more'

'When Animals experience extreme physical pain,' Naomi Eisenberger, speaking in Reject, a film about ostracism, says 'one of thier first responses is to attack whatever's nearby. This sheds some light on why people may be aggressive after they feel rejected. The extent to which there's some overlap between the system that regulates physical pain and the system regulating pain of rejection, means people may become aggressive in response to social rejection'

'I'm not insane, I'm angry' Luke Woodham, 16, to psychiatrists when arrested in 1997 for opening fire with a hunting rifle in a cafeteria at Pearl High School, Mississippi. He killed two, wounded seven.

'All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, beaten, hated'

...Cognative systems are likely to have developed to solve recurring vital survival problems, including the problems of group living. Deviance from the norm may trigger similar systems to those directed at distancing from contagion. Group members who loyally hold onto the pervasive group norm avoid individuals who depart from or transgress it in a similar way to that in which they avoid disease-bearers. As such, ostracism amounts to a social isolation which can be viewed as a kind of quarantine, with the ultimate sanction being total group isolation.

As it floated and shimmered through the air towards him, the Frisbee that changed Kip William's intellectual life carried with it a message about human communication and connection. Of course, tossing a ball or a Frisbee by oneself can provide the same aerobic and energetic workout, more so if we wish. It's just not phenomenologically rewarding for humans - at least some of the time. But simultaneously, we have a residual, often unvoiced, fear of the fun stopping, of it being taken away, of our being unfriended, unfollowed.

What is all this for?

Beyond a few, relatively rare exceptions, most of us need the impromptu Frisbee games of life with strangers. The opportunity for fruitful future interaction means that the sting of social rejection may be an avoidance adaptation to encourage steering clear of behaviors that lead to exclusion, a method for promoting social bonds. In broad agreement, Williams says,

'I think it has an evolutionary basis. We have evolved as social animals, and it's important for the survival of a social animal to maintain a connection with others. So we are wired to detect hints that we could lose it.'

But that group connection is not free, it comes at a cost.

Groups have norms - rules. Ostracism or its threat operates as a form of social control, the enforcement of norm conformity - even if it is not fair or equitable, even if it is pathological and harmful. The power of ostracism derives from its targeting of our vulnerabilities and insecurities: The fear of not belonging - ultimately, of being alone.

'So as we have seen, interesting patterns of behavioral responses to ostracism. For many people, they will conform more to a unanimous group, even if that group is clearly wrong in their perceptional judgments. They will go along with it. They will be more likely to comply, to obey a command' Kip Williams

In other words, they become more susceptible to social influence, to avoid, as Williams puts it, the 'kiss of social death'

We ostracize; we are ostracized. We are the Ostraciser; we are it's victim. Ostracism lances surgically straight into our mind. Neural systems fire; avoidance systems are engaged; social pain feels like real pain. It is real. Whether the mental module has developed independently or recruited pre-existing systems for physical pain, we are constantly alive to its signals. Acceptance, rejection, they matter. Rejection can lead to serrated tree saws in the classroom; blooded knives being kicked along school corridors; the slashing of wrists after a reality TV eviction; a well meaning boy like Joshua Unsworth walking quietly out of his parents farmhouse and into the trees.

The Last Laugh...?
While Justine Tunney's comments are a little in 'your face' and harsh... In chapter 11 of 'Finding the Next Steve Jobs' Bushnell suggests that employers 'Find the Bullied'

"Many creatives believe in themselves and their own creativity. They were often those kids who knew they were smarter than everyone else in the class - and still believe it. They're often right. That's why they can be so obnoxious.

Many other creatives, however, were the ones who were pushed around and mocked for being different, for having odd ideas, or for dressing strangely. The other kids made fun of them all the time. The teachers tried to knock some sense into them. Their parents despaired of their ever being 'Normal.'

Some of these kids faught back, but many didn't. Nothing makes people conform quicker than the fear of getting hurt, bullied or mocked. Pain is a great motivator.

As surely as other kids, teachers, and parents can knock the creativity out of children, companies can knock the creativity out of their employees, running their self-confidence along the way. That's particularly true if the person's identity is constructed around creativity. It's almost impossible to maintain your sense of self worth if you propose interesting idea after interesting idea and your company refuses to adopt any -or even, perhaps, entertain any. Worse, the company may mock them.

This response is a form of bullyingas bad as the schoolyard variety. How frustrating and unhappy it makes a creative - all those great ideas they would have brought the company have amounted to a heap of nothing, and now they sit around in the office, feeling terrible about her ability to perform.

A great number of companies brag about the creative people they have on staff. But this is not because they actually experiment with creative ideas. It's because they know it sounds good to say they have a creative company, wether or not they let their creatives do anything. Meanwhile, their poor, underutilised creatives are slowly trained into believing that creativity just gets them into trouble. And so, at their next job interview, they downplay their creativity.

"I don't think I want to go through that again" they think "I'll play it safe this time"

These creatives need to find a job where they can be, well, creative - who they truly are. At some point you will be sitting across from one such person at a job interview. Draw them out. Make them feel at ease. Maybe they won a poetry competition at school, or first prize at a science fair, or was the lead in a local play. They have learned over the years to hide this part of themselves, which is actually her most valuable and interesting characteristic.

Some of my best employees have come from companies where their talents were totally wasted. I remember one particularly toxic comapny that put together a little show of their employees' creative ideas. They were never going to put these ideas on the market, but they wanted to show them off to shine a spotlight on their originality. The employees who really excelled at this event were the ones who never got their ideas across at any other time. This demo turned into something of a job fair for these people - all of them were picked off by other employers who saw their full potential.

Warning to companies that refuse to foster their creatives: Don't put on a show to highlight these employees for your competitors.


I'm off to explore some of the loving kindness meditation I've been reading about in Robert Wright's book... and send some 'Beams' to a few people... Because you never know if/when you might bump into old 'friends' and 'collaborators' again.



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