I know some people find the attack on vapers and vaping by elements of the public health establishment stressful and anxiety-inducing. I’m one of them, and I’m not even a vaper or smoker, whose health and wellbeing may in part be determined by what these people say and do. I think it is so stressful because the interaction has many of the traits associated with bullying.
The last 24 hours saw a petulant petty online bullying attack on a vaper who had the temerity to have her letter published in the Lancet. The letter itself had already been watered down from the angry despairing original challenge to public health bullying and the establishment bullies protecting their bullying mates. Why do I place so much emphasis on bullying? Because that is basically what it is, what they do and who they are.
One of the best resources on bullying was established by the late Tim Field [Bully Online]. His focus was on workplace bullying, but the aggressive narcism that characterises bullies is present in many settings… He draws out the following character types that are prone to bullying.
- May occupy a role that is important in some way;
- Very self-assured;
- May be believed to be doing or to have done something selfless or of great value, eg charitable work or turning a failing department or business around;
- May give off an impression of trustworthiness and reliability.
- Has an air of untouchability: questioning this person’s actions or decisions is taboo especially among peers and superiors.
- compulsive liar: spontaneously makes things up to fit the needs of the moment; routinely embellishes stories for effect;
- convinces superiors and peers by seeming plausible and convincing, sometimes by copying others’ behaviour, words or work;
- portrays him or herself as kind, caring and compassionate but only behaves this way where it leads to personal gain;
- doesn’t listen, can’t sustain a meaningful conversation;
- hollow, superficial and glib;
- seems to have an overbearing belief in his or her qualities (especially as a leader or manager);
- apparently cannot distinguish between leadership, management and bullying;
- i.e. cannot distinguish between maturity and immaturity, decisiveness and impulsiveness, assertiveness and aggression, personal objectives and corporate objectives, eloquence and crassness; honesty and deceitfulness;
- is oblivious to the difference between how he or she would like to be seen, and how he or she is seen.
- is drawn to positions of power;
- wants to control everything;
- has a subjective sense of right and wrong.
- “Right” is whatever he or she can get away with;
- “Wrong” could be anything done by others, justifying the bully’s punishment, threats, control etc;
- projects his or her own shortcomings onto others;
- distorts peoples’ perceptions of reality through falsehood and gossip;
- rewrites history to paint a better picture of him or herself and/or a worse picture of someone else;
- Tells different people different things, causing confusion, disruption, division and conflict;
- is selectively (un)friendly and (un)cooperative:-
- is mean, officious and inappropriately inflexible with some people; but is generous, relaxed and very accommodating with others;
- may motivate allies with the prospect of reward; but motivates most people with fear and guilt.
- threatens dire consequences for people under his or her influence, who think or act for themselves. Threats could be made directly in private, or indirectly in front of witnesses;
- warns targets that no-one will believe them if they report the bullying;
- once called to account:-
- aggressively denies and refutes any criticism, counter-attacking the critic with fabricated or distorted counter-criticism;
- claims to have been bullied by the complainant, feigns victimhood, (“poor me”), uses amateur dramatics (bursting into tears etc), to avoid the question and evade accountability,
- makes others feel guilty for daring to suggest that he or she might have done the slightest thing wrong;
Jekyll & Hyde nature
- can be innocent and charming some of the time (typically in the presence of witnesses), but vicious and vindictive at other times (typically where there are no witnesses).
Ruthless and unpleasant
- lacks a conscience, shows no remorse;
- has a compulsive need to criticise;
- is often devious, manipulative, spiteful, vengeful;
- becomes impatient, irritable and aggressive if asked to address the needs and concerns of others;
- may be emotionally cold, humourless, joyless;
- may exhibit inappropriate or unusual attitudes to sex, gender, race, disability and other personal characteristics.
Tim Field estimated that one person in thirty has several of these traits, describing them as aggressive but intelligent individuals who express their aggression psychologically (constant criticism etc) rather than physically (assault).
Now I’m not going to link these traits to individuals, and there are many very decent people who work in public health – and no one is all bad. However, I would say these traits are ‘over-represented’ in the fields of public health and tobacco control establishment, and that the internal culture in these professions may select these characteristics for advancement. This is just an opinion – a personal reflection, having worked in public health but several other fields too, and re-encountered it recently.
You can decide for yourself and leave views in the comments – but I don’t want to see personal attacks against named individuals.
What are the stated values of public health?
These traits contrast sharply with what is supposed to be professional ethos of public health: well described by the UK Public Health Register (the regulator of public health professionals in the UK), in its Code of Conduct, which is based around seven principles.
The seven principles
These key principles will guide and support you in the work you do and the decisions you make. They should influence all areas and stages of your professional education and practice. You should apply them to any work you are involved in, making appropriate judgements about how they apply to you.
As a UKPHR registrant you must:
1. Make the health and protection of the public your prime concern
2. Maintain high standards of professional and personal conduct
3. Be honest and trustworthy
4. Protect confidentiality
5. Respect the dignity of individuals and treat everyone fairly
6. Know the limits of your competence and act within them
7. Cooperate with the teams with which you work and interact
Let’s have less of the former and more of the the latter. If you work in public health please reflect on these principles and the conduct of your colleagues.