Why Retaliation is Never the Answer
“Safety has to be everyone’s responsibility… everyone needs to know that they are empowered to speak up if there’s an issue.”
Captain Scott Kelly
This article examines the ways people can respond if complaints arise in their community and why retaliation is never the right way to respond. The investigation of a complaint is already a difficult situation for the Reporter, any witnesses, and the person complained against (the Subject of a complaint). It can become a harmful situation when a person involved in the complaint process reacts in a retaliatory way. Typically the person or business named in the complaint becomes hostile toward the person they feel reported them. Retaliation can be traumatizing to the person on the receiving end, causing significant harm.
It would be natural for anyone accused of a breach of Ethics to have emotions about it including defensiveness. If the Teacher feels misunderstood or even wrongly accused, or if the student has pointed out a significant blind spot, being involved in a complaint proceeding can be nerve wracking for a Teacher. In a healthy student-teacher relationship, the Teacher has respect for the students vulnerability. Being angry at one’s accuser(s), and looking for any and all things that THEY did wrong may be normal, but you have to trust the process and NOT act on those defensive feelings. The Office of EPS maintains strict confidentiality, and never assumes anyone is guilty of any particular accusation.”
We can look to the KRI Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct for guidance regarding respectful student-teacher relationships. In addition, the Code includes clear descriptions of retaliation so we can more easily recognize when it is occurring. Retaliation is not only discouraged, but prohibited; a Teacher found in violation of Code Principle 5 “Do Not Harass or Retaliate Against Anyone” may suffer significant consequences.
Reporters of complaints and any individuals serving as witnesses in a complaint proceeding are protected by the KRI Anti-Harassment and Non-Retaliation policy which defines retaliation as:
This would include retaliation by a Teacher against any person who made a complaint or who was a witness in the complaint investigation process.
Let’s consider some examples. First, a story about how a trainer responded with retaliatory behavior when a complaint arose:
The most common type of retaliation: Teacher against the Reporter
Let’s imagine Joanna is a yoga student and believes her Teacher Trainer might not be treating her fairly. Joanna is a graphic designer and the Trainer uses her professional skills without any compensation or clear agreement. Joanna was happy to help out doing a small job here and there, until he asked her to redesign his website. It was more work than she was willing to do for free and she requested some compensation for the job.
The Trainer reminded her that “seva” was part of the Level 1 course she was taking from him. Afraid to wreck the relationship and valuing what she was learning in the Level 1, she agreed. Still, having learned about the Code of Ethics in the training manual she called the EPS hotline with an anonymous report. The situation didn’t feel right, and she wanted to know for sure.
When EPS contacted the Trainer to understand his perspective on the matter he figured out almost instantly that Joanna must have reported him. His reaction was to harshly criticize her practicum in front of the group. Privately he told her she had come to him in a dream as a dark energy. Until she could transform that energy she would need to sit at least 8 feet away from all other participants in the training.
Joanna was stunned and felt violated. She called back the EPS hotline and gave them her case number so they could add this information to her earlier report: “You must have told my trainer about my complaint. He seems really mad at me now and is making me sit at least 8 feet away from everyone else. I feel violated and ostracized.”
The scenario we have described may sound crazy… No trainer would do something like that! True in most cases, but things such as this do happen. Joanna had the sense to report her initial concern and then followed up when the trainer retaliated against her. For many this kind of behavior is intimidating enough that they don’t speak up for fear of greater ostracization and losing their connections to the community.
A person feeling their teacher might be exploiting them (such as Joanna questioned when she first made her anonymous report) might avoid speaking up altogether for fear the consequences would be worse than suffering through the current unjust situation. People may be afraid of creating a disturbance in the community, getting their respected teacher in trouble, or being blamed for lying about what happened (with the teacher taking on the role of victim, not the person harmed). The greater the offense sometimes the greater the fear and difficulty in coming forward with a complaint.
The KRI Anti-Harassment and Non Retaliation policy exists to help protect those who have been harmed or have reported a concern to feel safe doing so. Retaliation is a considerable offense as it causes further harm and/or traumatization to the already harmed party. EPS investigates such reports and may immediately suspend the Teacher’s status as a teacher or trainer pending the outcome of the investigation. Teachers can face serious disciplinary action due to retaliation, and may permanently lose their status as a Kundalini Yoga Teacher/Trainer if it is shown to have occurred.
Taking a side and retaliating
Let’s look at another situation and consider how those involved in a complaint procedure are protected by the Non-Retaliation policy.
Emma, a Teacher and yoga studio owner, learns from some students that one of them has put in a complaint to EPS about a trainer at the center. She gets nervous that somehow the alleged behavior of the trainer will start to cause further problems and that the yoga center will suffer financial harm. Emma has not observed or experienced this behavior nor ever received a complaint about the teacher. Yet, without speaking to the trainer or learning more information about what happened, she panics and removes the trainer from class and training schedules without any explanation. Suddenly the trainer finds themself mysteriously off the teaching schedule. Emma feels justified in her actions because she is “protecting” students and her business.
Normally, as with Joanna in the first scenario, the students who make the complaint might fear a negative consequence from the teacher they reported. The teacher of concern could be doing their best to cooperate in the complaint procedure. However, the organization or yoga business might get involved and “take sides.” For example, a studio owner might decide to support the trainer and ostracize the students whom she sees trying to besmirch the reputation of a popular teacher. A leader may feel a profound pressure to support one side or the other.
Rather than taking any “side,” a better strategy for Emma would have been to remain impartial and communicate directly with EPS to clarify the nature and credibility of the complaint. Then, learn how she could help in their enquiry process, and seek advice on speaking to the trainer and/or the students, and any other action she might take helpful to a fair process.
Depending on the nature and severity of the reported behavior, EPS may very well have asked Emma to do exactly what she did in terms of suspending the Trainer from the teaching schedule until the investigation was completed. But Emma’s assumptions were premature and she did not discuss the matter at all with the teacher or EPS. Her actions and inaction (noncommunication) complicated the situation.
“Silence is violence”
Ostracization or “the silent treatment” is an example of retaliation that can be extremely harmful. Similar to shunning, ostracization is when a person, organization, or group tries to get back at the Reporter of a complaint with intent to punish or harm by excluding them from the group, events, and communications. Ostracization can be incredibly damaging to self-esteem and increases the likelihood of depression and suicide. It is a very serious problem as it not only harms the ostracized individual, it contributes to a culture where people are afraid to speak up about complaints or troubling behaviors.
According to the Code of Ethics, if the Teacher or Teacher Trainer who is the Subject of a complaint retaliates against the Reporter they risk losing their Teacher or Teacher Trainer credentials with KRI.
The primary purpose of any Non-Retaliation policy is to protect Reporters. It is very difficult for most people to come forward with a formal complaint – especially against a respected teacher, leader, or entity – for fear of social repercussions and retaliation from the teacher. The policy gives Reporters some assurance they can submit their concern safely and that there are protections against such retaliation and/or harassment.
Suppose a complaint is filed
In the history of the world, no one has ever felt happy about having a formal complaint submitted against them, especially when accused of misconduct or of causing harm to another person. The Anti Harassment & Non-Retaliation Policy is in place because teachers can feel angry, anxious, and/or unjustly targeted by the accusations. In that state it can be easy to make hasty judgments about who could have complained and why, and to feel an impulse to get back at them in some way. Knowing there are consequences to acting out on those impulses (i.e., harm to others, disruption of community, and possible loss of your KRI teacher and/or teacher-trainer credentials) is a helpful deterrent. Retaliation is a serious enough matter, that if a credible report of retaliation is received, that teacher may be immediately suspended for the duration of the investigation into the matter and pending its outcome.
It is the work of EPS to conduct a thorough and fair enquiry into the facts of the matter. During that time, the subject of the complaint (accused party) is required to not approach or contact any person they know or feel is the reporter of the concern or could be a person to provide information (i.e., a witness) to help in the investigation.
Teachers are also asked to respect the confidentiality of the complaint process and refrain from discussing the matter with others. With or without the Teacher’s knowledge, others might target the person believed to be the Reporter. Reporters of misconduct have been harassed, ostracized, and even threatened by community members who believed a teacher incapable of the alleged misconduct. This has occurred even when the teacher has acknowledged the conduct and harm caused and is cooperating with EPS in a process of resolution. Such intimidation by others is doubly traumatizing. For this reason, if you are ever the subject of a complaint, whether it is substantiated or not, be respectful of the process and all individuals involved, including the Reporter. Through cooperation and being forthcoming with information during the EPS Complaint enquiry and Procedure the truth will be known.
KRI is a non-profit organization that holds the teachings of Yogi Bhajan and provides accessible and relevant resources to teachers and students of Kundalini Yoga.