December 15, 2013

Why the Gifted Are at Heightened Risk

...A review of the literature by Zapf and Einarsen (2005) suggests that individuals describing themselves “as more achievement-oriented and as more conscientious than their colleagues” (p. 253) are more often mobbing targets. The (D.) perfectionism that is a virtue of the highly gifted individual is (A.) misunderstood by others, whereas for the gifted individual this is but an expression of his or her (D.) estheticism in the same way that a perfect diamond’s refraction of light is also beautiful. Colleagues will know that their work does not stack up by comparison, and they will need no one to tell them so. The gifted individual’s perfectionism and estheticism are seen as a threat, even if the gifted individual does not speak about them and does not offer criticism of others. A highly gifted adult cannot obscure his or her presence in such a milieu even through innocuous behavior. Such a presence will become and remain a recognized social fact because gossip, malicious and otherwise, will establish it as such. This malice will enforce the gifted adult’s social isolation, probably also intensifying his or her search for the meaning of that social isolation. Highly gifted adults’ (A.) difference from others, exacerbated by (A.) others’ misunderstanding of this difference, offers less capable colleagues the opportunity to establish by rumor and innuendo other socially recognized “facts,” to the detriment of the gifted person, whether those “facts” are actually true or not.

It is unhappily the case that there are not always enough places in superlative organizations to house the number of highly talented and gifted individuals who merit such positions. At institutions less than first-rate, therefore, one characteristically finds a small number of highly talented individuals who merit placement at a truly first-rate institution, surrounded by a rather larger number of less talented individuals who know that they could never reasonably aspire to such a position. The latter will typically compensate for their sense of inferiority by seeking ego-satisfaction through the acquisition of institutional power and prerogative. This power they will then tend to employ to make others’ lives hell, often targeting highly talented colleagues whose greater abilities evoke their own deep-seated insecurity.

Einarsen’s (1999) research on “predatory mobbing” (i.e., cases where the victim has not acted in any provocative manner that might justify the behavior of the predator) gives examples of the foregoing destructive cycle. Stucke’s (2002, cited in Zapf & Einarsen, 2005, p. 251) study establishes empirically that “active mobbing behavior [is] highest for a group high in narcissism but low in self-esteem stability, [as this group’s] individuals had to stabilize their high but unstable selfesteem by treating other individuals negatively.” In other words, inflated but weak egos need to beat down genuine quality in others. This is a “textbook description” not only of the organizational culture of the institution where I worked but indeed of the cultural syndrome of the whole broader social milieu of which the institution is characteristic. Zapf and Einarsen (2005) explain how such a dynamic develops on the microsocial level:

This group of victims was certainly [D.] not among the least efficient employees in the organization. Their problem was that they clashed with the norms of the work group to which they belonged. It is likely that in this case, the victims’ [B.] conscientiousness went against a group culture characterized by rigidity and low tolerance for diversity. These victims were probably perceived as constant annoyances or even threats to the work group to which they belonged. As a consequence, the group may have started to harass these individuals, either to enforce conformity or to get rid of the person. (p. 254; emphasis added)...



Anonymous said...

I read through the paper and it could easily have been written about me.

I worked for a number of employers over the years and was hounded out of three of them--I was fired from one, asked to resign from another, and quit a third. At all of those places, I had to deal with superiors who acted as if my abilities were a threat to them.

The worst was the one I quit, a technical college. The harassment began shortly after I started and I had only a master's degree. The harassment went on for years and increased after I started working part-time on my second master's but in a different discipline.

My situation became worse after I finished that degree and started on my doctorate, also part-time until I arranged for leave to complete my residency. I added insult to injury by becoming a member of Mensa.

The final campaign began after I finished that residency, particularly after I received my Ph. D. I couldn't do anything right. You name the misdeed, chances are I was accused of having committed it.

My integrity was constantly under attack, as were my teaching methods. My student evaluations were on par with those of most of my colleagues, but I was always portrayed as being the worst instructor ever hired by the institution.

In addition to that, my personal life was also subject to question. ("He's how old and still not married? What's wrong with him?") It was made worse by the fact that I rarely talked about myself, which, frankly, was nobody else's business. (I seldom inquired about the personal affairs of my colleagues which I thought were none of my business, either.)

I rarely socialized with my colleagues. I read the wrong newspapers (e. g., the "New York Times" rather than the local T & A fishwrap), listened to the wrong music (classical and opera as opposed to whatever was broadcast by the local Top-40 radio stations), and watched the wrong TV shows (I personally couldn't care less about "Survivor").

Things got so bad that if I had stayed on at the institution for much longer, I surely would have been fired. I got while the going was good and quit under terms that I dictated.

Anonymous said...

.... I have an IQ of 165. I came into my program with 16 publications. My GRE scores coming in were hundreds above my cohort. My teaching evaluations are considered excellent (I routinely score 4.4-4.5 out of 5 at an institution where the average is a 3.5). My students love me for the most part. I tutor my colleagues in statistics, and help them with their dissertation projects...

and I can't make above a B- in statistics in required department scores. I've been serially sexually harassed (boob staring, a professor making up a sex life with me and gossiping about it), I am routinely publicly humiliated (my stats and methods professors routinely stop class to make fun of me) to the point where one new student quit after witnessing it and I am routinely approached after class by students who want to know how I 'put up with it.'

I've had professors grab me by the arm and dig their fingers into my arm. I've had professors threaten me, mock me, spread truly nasty rumors about my mental health and sexual history. I've had professors claim to be interested in my work, and then ask me to read about sex and aging (which has nothing to do with my project) and 'report back to them.'

I also keep finding out that the definitions we're asked to memorize range from incorrect to so partial that they'd be useless for the purposes of getting a job in the field. Since I'm also autistic, I have trouble remembering to 'lie' on my papers and on essay exams, and despite my using the same wording as in the readings, I am still failed often on exams (yet my grade is somehow in the B range).

The department and university refuses to take seriously any complaint I've filed, and I've lost count of professors slighting me, being shitty to me (as publicly as possible), talking about how I "just think I'm smart," eye-rolling, encouraging my cohort to mock me, telling anyone who would listen that I'm just "hard to work with" and otherwise gas-lighting me.

.....It's impossible to describe how terrifying and demoralizing this behavior is to me. I'm often bracing to be assaulted when I'm on campus, because I know some of my professors are willing to grab and hurt me to make a point. I've had professors pretend to no longer understand the words coming out of my mouth and tell everyone I'm "impossible to understand."

I've even been lectured, after one professor spent the whole semester ogling my tits, touching me and failing my assignments, by his department that I needed to learn to be more culturally sensitive, because OF COURSE he was not staring at my tits, he was looking at the floor (some four feet down). The argument was that because he was Iranian, I was being culturally insensitive.

Goddamn them. Goddamn them all.

Anonymous said...

^ Person above - this is awful. Some of the stuff is almost hard to believe, but I know how many morally weak people there are out there. The fact is, as the first in my family to get any higher education, I've observed that a lot of academia is simply people going through the motions and following the path of what their (upper middle class) families expect. Their career has little to do with what they are passionate about. Without the real interest that's required for great work, they can only lash out at the smart people and fortify themselves bureaucratically. Taking up space and acting like assholes simultaneously.

And from what I've seen in the scientific side of grad school, it can be distinctly harsh for women at times. I normally don't agree with a lot of feminism, but things here are so blatantly skewed, and the assholes are so upfront in their sexual harassment, it's clear there's a problem at the institutional level that requires systemic addressing.

I had a professor (a woman) who was routinely belittled by the male professor who was co-teaching the lab. Once he came in right in the middle of her lecturing and started talking to a student about how her saw her sister yesterday. What the fuck was that? And this is just one example. Here's another: Our best post-doc, who is the lead author of the top-tier papers from our lab in the past 3 years, is the one who does things like making buffers. A lot of the guys seem to have perfected the art of letting other people do things for them. Anyway, hope things get better.