I broke a cardinal rule; I discussed politics at work.
There are excellent reasons why we don’t discuss politics–or any polarizing issue–in the workplace. Coworkers have a right to their opinions. We never EXclude team members, we INclude them. Work must be a neutral zone, where we focus on getting the job done, excellently, effectively, and on time.
I know how it feels to be the lone dissenter, afraid to stand up to a gaggle of men crowing over sex jokes because I NEED this job. I’ve been the one person in the room whose family religion is the butt of jokes. No way should I be making anyone else feel that way.
I’d checked Facebook during lunch (my first mistake) and saw one of those smug little all-lives-matter-if-they’d-stop-being-criminals-maybe-the-police-wouldn’t-have-to-kill-them-poorpoor-president-no-excuse-for-riots-where-is-the-riot-over-this-dead-white-cop-what-about-hillary rant, so easily disproved with a little research but so impossible to dislodge. My fact-checking editorial self couldn’t resist throwing up a few points of correction, and the battle was on…
…only to be interrupted by my next phone meeting. “I’m sorry,” I admitted to my coworker, “But I’m a bit worked up over an stupid flamewar. Can you give me a couple of seconds for deep breaths?”
“That’s OK,” she said, “I get the same way, so let’s both just breathe for a minute.”
Inhale-exhale, then I tried to explain. “I keep telling myself not to respond to stupid Facebook stuff, it’s just trolls trying to get a rise. I’m not going to change anyone’s mind by arguing, and no amount of facts will erase an emotional committment. I KNOW that, so but then someone makes some obviously wrong, hateful comment and off I go.”
“You and everyone else,” she sighed, “How does anyone keep quiet?”
Great place to shut up about it, but I just can’t let it rest. “This guy’s saying police don’t kill civilians if they’re innocent, that the numbers show there’s no systemic racism in the US. So I quote a whole page of statistics that prove he’s wrong, and he goes all crazy on me with this dumb-liberal-believes-fake-news stuff.”
“What is the point, what REALLY is the point, of even trying?” I sigh, “When will I learn to keep my big mouth shut?”
OMG, I broke the rule: No politics. I don’t know this woman (we’ve only met by phone), and I’ve no business going off on this rant that so clearly defines my beliefs, not hers.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “I had no business mentioning this, and I hope I didn’t offend you. My mouth just ran away with me. Again.”
“What? No,” she responded, “I was trying to think of a nice way to ask why you believe you should stop? Don’t you know the point? I was about to thank you for having those conversations.”
“I love working here, but everyone is so neutral, I wonder if they even care. I’m sure they do care, I HOPE they care, but I feel so isolated sometimes. Does anyone realize that I’m not white, that this affects me, too? That ignoring the problem is what got us here in the first place?”
“I’ve never looked at it that way,” I say, cautiously, “I think we’re trying to make the workplace politically, religiously, sexually neutral so everyone is comfortable…”
“But THINK about what you just said,” she insisted, “What’s so wrong with being uncomfortable about bad things? If someone said they supported rape, would you keep silent because you didn’t want to make people uncomfortable?”
“Well, no, because that’s illegal and it’s sexual harassment and…” I stopped, “OK, you have a point there…”
“Right,” she said, “So THANK YOU for having uncomfortable conversations. Maybe you don’t think they’re having an effect, and maybe one conversation doesn’t move the needle. But what about a hundred uncomfortable conversations? Or a thousand?”
And I start thinking like the marketeer that I am, about repetition and bandwagons. About the power of tiny drops of water to dissolve a stone..if you just apply enough of them.
“Please, PLEASE don’t stop having those conversations,” she said, “Make people uncomfortable. Make them think, wow, if everyone else feels differently, maybe I’m wrong. Then maybe they’ll start listening.”
And we get back to work.