Thursday, August 11, 2005

MH - Charity in the Workplace?

Fr. Tiffany's homily yesterday (which I would have blogged about yesterday, except Blogger was down for maintenance again) was concerned with how we deal with conflict. Jesus urges us, when we see someone doing wrong, to confront them with the truth of what they have done. Should this fail, bring two or three witnesses to testify to the truth.

One of the morals to be drawn from this is that it is an act of charity - when done in a spirit of charity - to bring such faults to the attention of the one who commits them, with the hope of correcting their behavior and strengthening them. It is a dramatic example of how we all are our brother's keeper, working for what is best for others. If we help someone to identify and overcome a particular problem, it is to their benefit and the benefit of those who come in constant contact with them - family, friends, colleagues. If it is true that we are as strong as our weakest link, helping someone in this way helps create a better society, a better community, a better workplace or household.

Many of the problems we experience in our everyday lives come about because we don't confront the problem directly. If we've been wronged, we complain to our friends about it rather than going straight to the one who wronged us in an effort to solve the problem. Fr. Tiffany noted that this situation was especially difficult in the workplace, where gossip flies fast and furious; and it was a particular problem when the one who wronged us is in a place of supervision over us. Since many fear retribution of one sort or another, they are reluctant to try to correct the situation, and find it easier to deal with their complaints by spreading news of the conflict to their co-workers.

Which brings me to my point, as a follow-up to the post above. A lot of us aren't very good in such situations, because the human animal for the most part is more comfortable avoiding conflict. True, there are those who thrive on conflict (mostly found, it seems, on cable news talk shows), but most of us prefer the safer route. So when we avoid confronting the situation head-on, preferring to make an end run that can make the situation worse, there's no doubt we take on some of the blame.

However, what about the blame that comes from those who create the environment of intimidation which many feel in the workplace in the first place? If someone shies away from a problem because they fear retribution, because they think they might lose a chance at a promotion or even lose their job, can you blame them for not wanting to act on it? Were this an issue of sex or race it would be called harrassment, and the person responsible for such an atmosphere of intimidation would be accused of creating a hostile work environment. Instead, more often or not, this is chalked up as having to follow the chain of command, of understanding that there's only one way of doing things around here - the company way.

In such situations, the person responsible - be they manager, director, or supervisor - not only acts against charity in preventing such corrective measures, they also assume some of the responsibility for the actions of those who, through fear, make things worse. I don't think I need to go into the underlying reasons why this type of atmosphere often exists; it's covered in my post above, and also in my previous posts on Distributism and the dignity of work (see sidebar).

Never forget that your actions always affect others, and that even when someone else does something that makes a situation worse, you often have a share in the blame for their acts. In our undying glorification of the individual in this society, our permissiveness that often masks itself under the heading of "freedom" or "civil rights," we frequently forget that. "I am involved in mankind," the poet Donne says. The ripples from our acts seldom run out before they touch others. Until Corporate America understands this, until our interest in our subordinates becomes more than just utilitarian, we'll continue to struggle with this lesson.

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