Two weeks ago I wrote a post about why I think we should not talk politics in the office. I argued that:
“your political preferences will most likely pigeonhole you into one [ideological] group and others will form opinions about you based on where you fit. To me, this is the danger in expressing personal beliefs in the workplace. It can take the focus from your professional accomplishments and redirect it on your personal life, no matter how brilliant you are at your job.”
Fellow Brazen Careerist blogger, Rebecca Thorman of Modite countered with:
“What we believe in and have faith in informs our work and personal lives intimately, and to say that we shouldn’t discuss them anywhere is dangerous…And while voicing your opinion may invite all sorts of opinions and criticism and the chance that you might – gasp! – have to defend your beliefs, we cannot have as our legacy a production that mindlessly follows the corporate establishment.”
While I admire Rebecca’s courage to speak her mind and I think she makes some good points, my cynical side has been presented with an example as to why such righteous idealism (“I will know that I never, ever regretted opening my mouth, only keeping it shut.”) sounds a lot better in theory than in practice.
Free Speech in Action
My friend, the same one I referenced in The Separation of Work and State, decided to engage a co-worker in a political discussion about why she was choosing to vote for John McCain for President.
My Friend: “So why are you voting for McCain?”
Co-Worker: “I don’t trust Obama.”
My Friend: “Why not?”
Co-Worker: “Well, he says he’s half black. But his father is from Africa, which is close to the Middle East, so I heard he is really part Arab. This means that Obama is really more Arab than he is black.”
My Friend: “Oh?”
Co-Worker: “It’s ok that he’s Arab, but why is hiding it from everyone? I don’t trust him.”
A Moral Dilema
My friend is now embroiled in somewhat of a moral dilemma as he now suspects his co-worker is:
a) severely misinformed/ignorant
b) racist against people of Middle Eastern descent
c) racist against people of African descent
I have no doubt that this woman is a competent employee who does a good job. But by sharing this side of her personality (in a non-work related context) has made her co-workers view her in a very different and unflattering light.
My friend ultimately chose not to argue with his co-worker but if we are supposed to fully express our beliefs no matter the consequence, shouldn’t he have spoken up to correct her? Would she have changed her mind if he did? If they had argued, would any lasting animosity affect their professional relationship?
The First Amendment
I understand that a central tenant of America’s freedom is the exercise of personal speech without persecution. As a blogger, I can acutely appreciate the gravity of losing this freedom and consider myself lucky that I an write whatever I want without fear of being jailed (like bloggers in Egypt, Malaysia or Morrocco.
However, any idea, no matter good/bad/right/wrong, will always be subject to critics. Let’s not discount that it’s much harder to have to work side-by-side with your critics everyday than to sit miles and miles away from them at a computer.