How aristotle can help with sexual harassment

He lays his hand on her knee. “Well, sweetie, we should work on this together”, he speaks with a broad smile – leaving open whether he is referring to the content on the desktop or the interhuman relationship. She freezes. Unable to move or speak. Her heart is bumping, in her head thousands of thoughts – “Should I speak up?”, “Is this already sexual harassment?”, “Am I too upright?”, “We need to work for at least half a year together…”, “He will rate me at the end of the project…”, “Speak now or never…” … tic toc, the seconds elapse.

What would you do? How do you react when you are witness of such a moment?

Situations like these need one thing for sure: Courage. Courage to make a decision. Courage to speak up. Courage in this sense is not an extreme in which one person leaning. It is not about being an extremist on a scale. It is rather acting based on a virtue.

According to the greek philosophers aligning the daily actions with a set of virtues lead to a fulfilled life – simply set – to happiness. Therefore lets see how ancient philosophy can help us today.

Aristotle describes courage as a balanced state – a “mean” – between two extremes. Courage lies between cowardliness and rashness. A coward will never step up. Fear is holding him so intensely that he is not willing or able to overcome the barrier. Fear of rejection is so powerful that a lot of people never act how they want to. They always assume the worst reaction of their environment – and so they rather stay silent than speaking up. The other extreme are people acting in rashness – without considering consequences. They are not afraid, but overconfidence can lead to unhealthy decisions, too.

Courage is a mean with regard to fear and confidence.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.6

Therefore, courage is action in confidence despite fear. An action that is rooted in a virtue that drives behaviour. Courageous people know that feeling of fear. That bumping of the heart. That moment when you know that it is up to you to make that decision. Mixed in that emotion is a deep confidence that for some reason it is the right thing to do. And right there it is – courage!

Coming back to the hand-on-the-knee-story. As you have guessed correctly – it is a real story. What happened back then?

She actively takes the hand of him off her knee telling him clearly: Never put your hand on this spot again! She sets a healthy boundary. They still can work together. But touching the other person is out of line.

Get into first row!

When you are standing at the shore of your comfort zone, you will feel the waves of fear clushing to your feet. That is the moment when you have to make a decision whether you take the challenge.

When was the last time you left your comfort zone and how did it make you feel?”, my colleague starts our weekly team meeting with this thought-provoking question.

One teammate shares her last attendance at the sports lesson. Being quite new to the course she thought about staying in the last row, giving her the chance to check on the sport mates and copy movements quite easily. But before the class started, the trainer asked her up front since there was some space left and so they wouldn’t have to squeeze themselves in the back. She took heart and moved to the first row. Now being in sight of everyone and role model herself for the following rows of sport mates who cannot see all movement of the trainer, she even invested more power, strength and preciseness in all poses than she would have staying in the last row.

She smiles while she is telling the story and you can tell that she is proud of her accomplishment despite the uncomfortable first feeling of walking into row one. The whole team is cheering with her and together the discussion evolves into being in row one in the job as well.

Everyone agrees that getting out of the comfort zone first feels very insecure, vulnerable and crazy. But with each time you step further outside, you learn that actually leaving the comfort zone is a good thing because you are rewarded with success and an enormous powerful feeling of accomplishment.

While I am writing these lines I am feeling the result of a successful walk out of my comfort zone as well. I love to hold meetings, teach and moderate even complex gatherings – but when I have been asked to speak in front of ~400 people it was outside my current comfort zone for sure. Nevertheless, I took the challenge and it went quite well.

“Take the challenge” involves an inner fight that each one of us has to fight for him/herself. Usually the comfort zone is surrounded by fear. Fear of disapproval, fear of rejection, fear of failing. So it is pretty easy to tell when you are standing at the shore of your comfort zone – you will feel the waves of fear clushing to your feet. That is the moment when you have to make a decision whether you take the challenge.

When you walk towards your fear, you are leaving the comfort zone.

The reward for taking the challenge and overcoming fear is personal growth. Additionally to the immense feeling of accomplishment you will soon see the growth in your character, personality and life. And this growth will have a positive impact e.g. on your relationships and job.

The team meeting ended with the insight that you can even become comfortable with leaving the comfort zone. When you overcome fear on a regular basis and learn that you have the ability to handle all situations you become strong and bold.

Are you ready to leave your comfort zone?