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.

Finding passion

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

I love my job“, the young lady smiles to me. We just got to know each other and while sharing our current work environments, she smiles, speaks enthusiastically and beams. You can tell: she. loves. her. job. “This hasn’t always been the that way”, Alice continues. “After my first graduation, I tried to fit into my workplace, lost the job, was unemployed and tried to find something suitable for my educational background. But actually I didn’t want to work in that area anymore.”

I guess, a lot of people can relate to Alice. For some reason you choose your studies and start working in your job. You try to fit in but somehow the days pass by in a meaningless stream of unfulfilling tasks. Every morning it’s getting harder to get up and get going. You just feel that you are not doing what you want to be doing.

One day I was wondering when I had the best times of my life“, Alice adds to her story. “It was in school and in my year abroad. And then I knew what I had to do: find a way to get back into school ministry and work with kids. Fast forward: it is what I am currently doing. I become a special type of teacher for which I need my professional background. And now I have the third time the best time of my life.”

I love the focus, determination and courage in Alice story. Coming from a time of unemployment, getting finally a job again, one could think to just be thankful and live with the unfulfilling but rent-paying job. But instead setting the focus on a potential solution, be determined to change one’s future and to be bold enough to walk the talk – thats an inspiring and truly life changing attitude.

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

Emanuel James “Jim” Rohn, Author & Motivational Speaker

Focus

What are you focussing on in your job? My bet: you rather speak about the bad things than on the positive aspects. This misbehaving colleague. That nasty client. People tend to focus on the problem than on the potential solution. And with this focus the problem even becomes bigger. And I get it: it so easy to speak about the negative things – because they are there. They are real and they influence your emotions.

But what if you wouldn’t spend so much time on describing the problem to everyone around you and rather think about a solution!? Turn your focus away from the negativity. Start describing the changed situation to yourself. How do you feel? With whom do you work? What tasks do you do?

Those questions are not easy and they might take months or even years to be answered – but nevertheless, take the effort. Search for your sweet spot. Look for the role and position you were meant to fill in.

Determination

How intensely do you desire change? How much longer do you want to stay in your complaint-corner? Do you really want to change your focus?

To be determined

– having made a firm decision and being resolved not to change it

Dictonary

Determination is needed for any change. You need to be convinced that you want to be in a different position/mindset/state in the years to come in order to leave your status quo. You need to find the next steps that will lead you to your new place. At this point you don’t need to know everything about your destination but rather having the firm decision that you do not want to stay where you are right now. Are you determined?

Courage

Are you ready to leave your status quo? This is the moment when your heart starts beating. “What-ifs” start flashing through your mind. Without knowing the outcome you need to take your first step. And that takes courage.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.

Mark Twain

Your change might require to move to another city, quit a job, get out of certain relationships and live through financial insecurity. Are you brave enough?

I can still recall Alice smiling face. Smiling with focus, determination and courage. Inspiring.