August 8th, 2013

Vallecitos Ranch workplace bullying update

Earlier we reported that bullying at the Vallecitos Mountain Ranch spiritual retreat center was so terrorizing, nine of 10 staffers quit in mid-July. The Vallecitos 9 demanded that the co-founder Grove Burnett be removed by the board. Instead, the sycophantic board turned on the workers even though the Executive Director and Ranch Manager had dedicated 15 and 17 years to Vallecitos, respectively.

Most brave was Vallecitos Coordinator Mary Reed who conducted a 7-day hunger strike, an unprecedented act to bring attention to bullying in the workplace she loved.

In her personal blog, Reed eloquently describes the hypocrisy …

The professed compassion-based values of Vallecitos belie a cruel history of profane tirades and demoralizing personal attacks that have long been hushed in insider circles. In 2004, a brave board of directors tried to remove Burnett but failed after mediation by a Council of Elders that included Burnett’s longtime friends and teachers, Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, founders of Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society, respectively. In the ten years since, the path of emotional, psychological and economic injury has been long and tragic.

Her rationale for her unique strike …

I set up camp outside the gates of the ranch and began a hunger strike; it was the greatest act of love I could think of. Besides the fact that nothing says “I love all beings” quite like starving to death to end some measure of their suffering, I wanted to bring attention to the severity of the abuse without resorting to the loveless tactics of lawsuits and retaliations.

A compassionate reaction from a movement leader who saw Burnett as the problem …

Eric Kolvig, a long-revered dharma teacher, immediately wrote to the Vallecitos board telling of his years of witness to the chronic conflict centered around Burnett, and the rancor with which Burnett reacts instead of utilizing peaceful dialogue. “Will you allow such pain and human suffering to cycle into the future, as it has cycled through the past and present?” Kolvig asked. “How much conflict would be enough?”

Then, support for the principled workers determined to align workplace practices with the espoused values of love and peace evaporated. Just as with the vast majority of bullied individuals, authoritarian-loving bully apologists exert pressure to demonize targets while holding perpetrators blameless.

Here is the letter sent to the Vallecitos 9 by ten spiritual “leaders” who could just as well be working for Goldman Sachs …

Dear Friends,

It is with great dismay that we have watched the unfolding events connected to Vallecitos and the suffering of many people involved.

You have received letters from Eric Kolvig and others about the situation. It is clear to us that the information in the letters is one-sided and misinformed. The situation is significantly more complex than was conveyed in Eric¹s letter and he himself is stepping back from the situation for health reasons.

Although there have been issues at the ranch that need to be addressed, we have known Grove Burnett for many years and we value him and his work deeply. We can attest to his character and his integrity.

We currently support having an outside person audit and assess financial concerns as well as the allegations made of Grove. Without neutral party assessment we only have information rooted in hearsay and blame. Even around the Buddha there were painful conflicts in his communities, and he recommended time apart, Dharma reflection, the counsel of elders and covering the mud with straw.

Nothing good can come from any more blame; already it is having serious personal consequences for all involved. We ask that all sanghas practice patience as we move towards clarity, truth, and healing.


Guy Armstrong, Joseph Goldstein, Trudy Goodman, Jack Kornfield, Michele McDonald, Wes Nisker, Steven Smith, Erin Treat, Kate Lila Wheeler & Diana Winston

Note the main points in the letter. The “suffering of many people” does acknowledge that the Vallecitos 9 were hurt, but so was poor Grove. In my opinion, short of suicides related to workplace bullying, NO ONE, especially Grove Burnett, was as harmed as Mary Reed who danced dangerously close to death. From Reed’s perspective, the other eight of the Vallecitos 9, suffered equally. All lost their livelihoods and large parts of their identities. How could these gurus not even mention the hunger strike as a demonstration of the seriousness of the charges leveled against Burnett?

“One-sided” is the way to dismiss the perspective of a target or nine targets in this case. “Complex” means that bullying can never be understood, therefore it doesn’t exist. It’s a way of saying, it’s all above us.

Turns out that two of these “neutrals” did get involved in prior years when Burnett’s conduct caused similar problems. They chose to keep him in place to continue his campaign of hate in a supposedly sacred place for healing and love. Goldstein and Kornfield are responsible for not removing Burnett in time to prevent more years of suffering.

Finally, the signatories claim blaming is the real problem. That assumes that the bullying complaints are baseless. And that when staff responded to Burnett’s continuing involvement with Vallecitos after they threatened to quit, the REACTION to abuse, fixing responsibility on the perpetrator, Burnett, was unfair blaming. Is bullying a victimless act? If there were no consequences, which is a lie, then blame would be unwarranted.

Bullying, in truth, is driven by perpetrators who choose their targets, the timing of onset and delays, the tactics employed, and a pseudo-realistic explanation for the uninvited assaults on others. Victims suffer severe stress-related health consequences, psychological injuries, threats to their professional identities and strain on their families and friends.

Human-inflicted harm compels the naming of perpetrators. If apologists want to call it blaming, surely justified given the harm caused, then so be it. Blame also connotes holding someone or a group accountable. People responsible for abusing others deserve being called out. Yes, they deserve blame. The guru-signatories above should be ashamed of their corporate-like cruelty cloaked in the language of “clarity, truth and healing” (sic).


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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 11:21 am and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Fairness & Social Justice Denied, Target Tale, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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