Friday, 24 May 2013

Responding to readers' comments on my encounter with workplace bullying

It is truly amazing what kind of responses were elicited by my previous post since it went semi-viral within the organisation. Apparently, much of the senior leadership is now part of my readership. Good day to you Sirs, it is my sincere hope that everything will be kept in perspective, and all parties can remain civil and mature in dealing with this matter. In fact, moving forward, I would say that it is awareness which I am trying to raise. As some have pointed out offline, it would be so easy for me to wait till I had left the organisation before posting an account like this. However, would it then be timely? This brings me to address the first point, which was raised offline.

1. What is your "real" intention of posting this article?

I had this question asked several times by the same person. Now, for reasons which are likely obvious to those who have ever been in service, I will be a little more coy with details, but the issues can be dealt with here.

Those who have kept up with local news should have heard of this workplace bullying case.

Now refer back to my earlier link about The Seven News Values, hyperlinked here again for your convenience. Clearly, this slapping incident has had impact, my earlier posting was timely, and proximity was there, with both cases occurring locally. This topic is obviously current, and conflict is intrinsically present. In terms of bizarreness, there isn't too much in my account, admittedly, but certainly there was in the original case, where it has been revealed that this employee has been working for three years on a measly intern's pay of $500, not granted any leave, and being abused regularly on top of that. Although my own experience can't hold a candle to that shit he went through, as a fellow victim once upon a time, my heart goes out to him.

In case anyone is wondering whether I have an axe to grind, the short answer is: No.

Think about it. Would I wait three years to post this? Do you think that it has been eating me up inside all this while and I have been waiting to strike? (for the literary-ly challenged, these are rhetorical questions

In summary, awareness, and fulfilling six of the Seven Core (News) Values. And of course, this will generate pageviews too. This is a blog after all and we are still working towards acceptance for Google Adsense, because apparently we need quite a lot more content.

Now, to address the comment left by Anonymous 22 May 08:26 systematically:

2. I like your comment: "Mind you, I am an Officer." I think as an officer, you are expected to lead the people under your charge, and when you feel that things are not going right, you are expected to stand up for your people and take care of them. How do your subordinates trust you to do that when you can't even seem to stand up for yourself at that time? You knew you had an avenue, which was "I could have gone to my Squadron CO then" (presumably your boss' boss?), but you chose to hide under the guise of "but what good would that do?". Have you done your part as a leader (officer) to correct something that you felt was wrong?

Thanks for putting yourself in my shoes, and understanding perfectly what I was going through at that time. 

Please re-read my post carefully. I must apologise for my poor writing and for being unclear the first time. But I was not technically qualified to be a Navigating Officer at that time. It was a grey area as to whether I was really in charge, or just training. Let's say a bit of both.

One thing I really did not make clear, was that the original post is an extremely watered-down version of the true story. This is not to solicit sympathy that CPT S went through Oh-such-a-shitty-and-pitiful-time. I also left out details like the fact that I DID try to stand up for myself initially. But each time, I got beaten back down. And everyone with authority there endorsed the abuse.

But since we are going on about me, look, I had confidence issues okay? In some way, I am sure I still have them now, especially when challenged in areas where I am not an expert in. It's not like I totally didn't fight back like how we assume the slapping victim didn't. There was also an element of me being professionally inferior to someone who was the very best there was. It's too bad he used that position of power to dole out abuse. 

Squadron CO? Yes, I SHOULD have told him. "Should", "in-theory", "by right". Nice buzzwords we love to throw around when we can't understand why people don't do what we think they should.

Do you know that it was assessed that in the USA, 54% of rapes are unreported? Now, in no way was I sexually harassed at any point in my Navy career, but I use this example to highlight how for whatever reason, people may not always report certain things perpetrated against them, even when it is the right thing to do.

Have I done my part? I thought that I did all that I could at that time. I may have been "wrong" or "didn't do enough", but that's my cross to bear, including future judgements by people such as yourself.

You had a chance to start afresh, be thankful. Many people may not get the luxury that you got. "A poor fit for that ship", and "40 plus or so colleagues pretty much stood by the sidelines". Hard to comprehend that 40 plus or so people are so wrong, and you are so right.... Perhaps, it's worthwhile to look in the mirror and think about why no one spoke up for you?

Yes I am thankful, I think you need to re-read my earlier post again if you still didn't catch that. I am also thankful for a ticket out of this organisation. It's a luxury A and I have worked towards to. We have zero outstanding debts and a fully-paid for HDB flat which we financed entirely on our own. Credit to the monies from our respective employers for that, as well as financial prudence. Credit also to our decision not to bear offspring, at least at this time in our lives. Foresight has its rewards.

So, why did no one speak up for me? All I can say is that we all lacked moral courage. They were not any more wrong, and I am not any more right than the bystanders who kept silent. By the way, I did receive words of comfort and encouragement and comfort from some of them. Which I did mention in the original post.

I sure am glad that you are the upstanding citizen who will right a wrong every time he sees one. If you hear your neighbours fighting, you will call the police. If you ever notice a kid in your area getting abused, you will call MSF and report it. Because you claim to be on higher moral ground than all 40+ of us. Singapore needs more people like you.

As a matured adult and prospective leader, it is perhaps more appropriate to speak to your "Kevin" and give him the very frank feedback. Resolve the issue like adults. I don't think any employer appreciates having an employee who does not have the moral courage to speak up and handle conflicts in a manner befitting of leaders, but rides on other opportunities to air grievances, and in the process, discredit your employer as well as perhaps, yourself.

Having addressed the issue of "moral courage" above, I would like to address your allegation that I have discredited the organisation.

If you happen to be from the Navy as well, then this really smacks of 做贼心虚. And again, may I direct your attention back to my original post?

I never generalised this incident to represent my entire organisation. By suggesting that I have, you are doing much more to discredit the Navy. In fact, let me reiterate what I have said earlier: that I have met good, nurturing leaders who brought out the best in me. I am definitely not stellar or shit hot by any measure, but if unsure or when I have made a mistake, I will man up to it and not try to cover my ass at the expense of the safety of my entire ship's complement. If that's not "moral courage", I don't know what is.

Finally, please dun use our very respectable First PM's quote to associate with your blog. His quote demonstrated a sense of resilience and a will to survive...

Does my quoting of First PM not demonstrate the same resilience and will to survive? I will not be cowed by any more bullies - that's the main point I'm trying to bring across. That's exactly why when well-meaning friends suggested I delete my previous post, I decided not to. Is this not "moral courage"? Of course if you twist this term to suit your needs, then you can argue it any way you choose. I can't help that.

"Respectable"? Do you know the context in which First PM used that quote? I truly admire his brazeness, his gung-ho mess-with-me-if-you-dare attitude. But do take a look at the context in which he made it.

Of course, if you are the sort who likes to "discredit" any form of political opposition in Singapore, then I guess we can assume that everything said and done by First PM was "very respectable" indeed.


  1. Frankly, it is difficult to prevent any abuse or bullying since all militaries rely on strict chain of command and obedience without question. "Standing up" to your superior can be easily dismissed as insuborindation or disrespectful to rank and authority, and can earn one a stint in military prison. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with keeping your mouth shut and bearing all the nonsense while in uniform.

    In wartime, "standing up against a superior" can be deemed mutinous or traitorous to be responded by a quick firing squad. Ironically, since "fragging" is an alternative to "standing up", the behavour of superiors would likely be more reasonable and gentlemanly during the heat of battle. My point is that challenges faced during peacetime problems are different from those during times of war.

    I have witnessed a bullying SNCO during my NS days. He was only sorted out after some acts of civil disobedience by his subordinates caught the brass' attention. The beautiful ending was that he became a much respected and empathetic SNCO for next batch of NSFs. So it appears that training and learning is reciprocal. One should not assume that the official authority is always right. The captains, colonels and generals, no matter how experienced, are usually also quite new to their current appointment.

    As to the 40 plus that stood by the side, they were probably glad you were there to take the heat and the attention away from them. I guess I was luckier, my boss during NS enjoyed a rotational play so I only got periodic attention.

    1. Hi Anon,

      Thanks for reading, and posting such an insightful comment. I had not considered it from this angle until you mentioned it :)