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Organizational Trauma

July 2nd, 2014 by Marliyn Kroplick

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An organization functions as a collective group of relationships. When these relationships are healthy, the organization is more productive. When these relationships are rife with conflict, the workplace becomes toxic, and the organization less productive. IDA’s President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick, aims to improve the health of In Defense of Animals (IDA) by creating a supportive and nurturing work environment.

IDA_COSA_MarilynAs board director, secretary, and president as well as acting executive director, Dr. Kroplick focuses her efforts toward increasing staff productivity and joyfulness. She believes that an organization can work wonders when staff relationships are positive and respectful. Keeping morale high is of paramount importance while attending to the organizational dynamics and emotional atmosphere of the group, especially if the individuals within the group undertake the stressful work of saving animals’ lives.

As president, Dr. Kroplick welcomes the challenge of confronting self-destructive behaviors to maintain the health of IDA. She believes the responsibility is on everyone’s shoulders to stand up and fight all types of abuse, whether verbal, physical, or emotional. It’s not easy to confront abusive, angry people who want to preserve their power and destroy the credibility of others. She encourages everyone at IDA to work actively at fostering compassion and solidarity, both within the organization and with the world at large.

Like individuals, organizations can also suffer from relationship issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Organizations that engage in animal rights work are especially prone to PTSD, a condition of anxiety induced by experiencing one or several traumatic events. IDA staff have experienced the trauma of toxic relationships in addition to the secondary trauma of witnessing animal abuse. As a psychiatrist, Dr. Kroplick identifies these organizational wounds and creates plans to heal them. With a focus on self-compassion and empathy for others, staff dynamics can be greatly improved.

All suffering is real and meaningful, especially to the being experiencing it. The pain of an undercover investigator who observes dogs tortured for meat is nowhere near as acute as the dog being abused, but it is real, and must be considered seriously. Animal activists often shun emotions in a misguided attempt to mainstream the typically perceived as “masculine” ideas of superiority and heightened rationality. Movements seeking equality for the oppressed take great pains to present themselves as rational and unemotional by suppressing their feelings. In the same way that animals are dehumanized and given labels of inferiority, activists can often dehumanize people perceived as weak if they are not careful. Our movement can’t survive and make positive changes unless this suppression, or marginalization, of emotional life is addressed.

The animal rights movement needs to embrace our diverse groups, aims, and tactics. Despite our differences, we need to build a more solid movement, with fewer fractures, governed by acceptance and empathy. We can disagree without tearing each other down or ripping our movement apart. As long as tactics prove not to hurt the struggle, different people have different roles to play. We can learn to argue ethically, working to reach a consensus by carefully examining the evidence and analyzing these facts to uncover the roots of our differences. There aren’t enough of us to afford the high costs of demoralization brought on by divisiveness. This means no blaming, bullying, or bad faith against fellow activists who believe they are actualizing best practices.

With IDA’s history of tumultuous relationships, it makes sense that we would pioneer, set the tone, and share our resources to increase solidarity in our movement. As IDA’s culture changes, I hope to teach activists to more effectively cope with the inherent trauma of our noble work with animals. Many activists might only be able to seek help if they conceptualize a psychiatric diagnosis as a health problem. Unlike flesh-eaters, vegans notice the violence inherent in consuming meat, seeing fresh trauma in every supermarket, restaurant, and café. Within the context of such a sad and violent world, IDA can help activists find happiness.

Our Council of Sustainable Activism (COSA) can help activists and organizations to understand how trauma affects and undermines their mission. COSA provides trainings on nonviolent communication and mindfulness to improve organizational dynamics and relationships within our movement. We focus on treating ourselves with compassion, extending compassion to others in the movement, and offering compassion to society at large.

This requires your support and collaboration, as we provide a role model to cope with organizational trauma. The organization includes all of our members, not just staff working in the office. IDA supporters can vote to create a healthier organization, where people treat each other fairly. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make this choice. First, decide to respect and help one another. Then watch the transformation occur!

Marilyn Kroplick MD, is president of In Defense of Animals (IDA). Three years ago, Dr. Katz handed over the torch of IDA to Dr. Kroplick, who is trained as a child, adolescent, and board-certified adult psychiatrist. Throughout her life, she has loved traveling to exotic locales: Africa, Middle East, Asia, Cuba, and South America as a medical doctor and professional photographer. In the sixties, Dr. Kroplick photographed social movements– civil rights, anti-war, and women’s rights. Her activism was published in underground (activist) newspapers, books, and in a weekly column of the Village Voice. In 1972, The National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a grant in photography.

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