Religion and Politics in the Workplace

Religion and Politics in the Workplace

I read an article recently that helped me know that not everyone understands the impact of religion and politics in the workplace.  The author started his article with religious jokes.

Where I first heard anyone say that these topics were inappropriate for the workplace was in Naval Officer Candidate School.  The curriculum was designed to cover as much information as the Naval Academy teaches midshipmen.   My assessment is that the curriculum was terrific preparation for going on active duty and was based on a few assumptions that some of us knew things that the Naval Academy includes in its curriculum.

The material was  a challenge for me.  The people who were my classmates and the curriculum it made help me value the things I learned, both in terms of military science and in terms of leadership.

At this time, military service was still mandatory.  Among my classmates was a Rhode Scholar, a PhD in oceanography, several attorneys, a master’s graduate from MIT, a Navy SEAL who received a degree before becoming a SEAL, and other people with degrees in engineering, mathematics, physics, and science.[1]

Going into OCS, I had a degree in English.

A lot of what I went through makes for good jokes today, but at the time the experience was very stressful.  I had never heard of thermodynamics.  Part of the curriculum included studying the second law of thermodynamics.  That is to say that the class started with the second law of thermodynamics.  You engineers will see the humor in the fact that I did not even know there was a first law of thermodynamics.  We had to learn how to calculate relative motion based the laws of trigonometry and calculate positions on the earth from celestial bearings.  I had studied trig. I had the  math skills for celestial navigation.  Yet applying what I knew into an understanding of these subjects was a growth experience.  I had some catching up to do.

Along with courses in engineering, navigation, tactics, seamanship, and so forth, the curriculum included a course in administration and leadership.  As a humanities student, I felt at home.

I took a lot of things out of that class.  I especially remember two points that have stuck with me.  The first point was that in management it is easier to start with control and ease up than it is to start with a lack of control and try to gain it later.  The second topic was to avoid the discussion of religion and politics in the workplace.

The importance of this part of the curriculum was based on an understanding that many of us had come from places where everyone had common sources of knowledge and common beliefs and were moving on to places where every one had a different background and perhaps different beliefs.

The most troublesome aspect about discussions of religion and politics is that these subjects can make people become judgmental.  As a person becomes judgmental, a person’s mind begins to scan for other differences between themselves and other people.   Personalities emerge and the focus can go from decisions pertaining to the job to judgments about other people.

The article that called my attention to the subject of religion in the workplace was a business article on the importance of using correct grammar in resumes.  The first sentence of the article contained a religious pun.  Stumbling on the religious pun in a business article caught me off guard.

The article did not offend my religion.  It was not necessarily aimed at  anything I believe.  However, after reading that joke, I went from interest in the subject to  judging the writer.  I began to notice that the article itself was full of errors.    I noticed that the writer used the noun “grammar” for the adjective “grammatical.”  I noticed that he used an incomplete sentence.

The subject of religion can close a person’s mind.

The discussion of politics can have the same effect.  For a year or so, I watched cable news.  I somehow felt that through the political positioning of this news I would learn things and discover solutions.  What I found is that I was becoming more judgmental, not really learning anything, and the show was not about solutions but was about political positioning.

One evening, one of the journalists commented that viewers write that they will never view his show again, and yet they still watch his show.  I decided that the time that his show airs is a good time to take an evening walk.  I have not watched the show since I walked away from the television that evening and have enjoyed the peace of mind that watching that show had cost me.

So be extraordinary!  Have fun in the workplace.  For me, having fun in the workplace means sticking to business and trying to remember that others often respect me more for the things that I do not say than the things I say.

[1]This information in the curriculum list is not classified and has changed over time to say to the extraordinary changing requirements in engineering, math, and science for the military.  For students interested in this curriculum, there is more information on the website for the United States Naval Academy.

Image: Sean MacEntee

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