Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Violence is Widening the “Authenticity Gap”

9 Jan, 2021

by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

Flashes of violence – on the streets and in the US Capitol – fan the flames of distrust everywhere. Increasingly, people presume that everyone on “the other side” has the worst intentions. The fear is that “they” want to destroy what “we” hold dear.

Make no mistake: This distrust and suspicion seeps into our workplaces. We ignore it at our peril.

Times like these drive many to silence. The problem is, silence is fertile ground for conspiracy theories, worry and hatred. It’s far better to promote a culture of authenticity and transparency about core issues and beliefs.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting the answer is to launch debates in the workplace on particular hot political topics. That’s rarely productive since it focuses on issues rather than on relationships. Instead, I submit that the work to strengthen trust and connection is best focused on the field of basic principles.

As I noted last week, “religion” has been defined as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” Now we’ll take that further. Those of us who’ve been promoting Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) have seen, time and again, that when workers sincerely open up about the basic core principles that motivate and inspire them, there’s remarkable collegiality. More, there’s broad agreement on the basic values that play out in the workplace every day, including values like:

  • – Respect for all people, whoever they are;
  • – The right of all human beings to be treated with dignity and fairness, as we ourselves would like to be treated;
  • – The right of people to live and speak according to their beliefs, insofar as that right doesn’t actually impinge on the rights of others;
  • – A desire for facts (and not prejudice) to drive decisions; and
  • – A desire for friendship, and even reconciliation, across cultures.

In diverse environments that promote FoRB for all, we’ve seen hearts turned toward reconciliation and connection. Workers often come to see that the proverbial “they” are not really bent on harming “us”. There certainly remain large areas of significant disagreement about the implications of certain facts, what constitutes “fact,” and specific policies best suited to accomplish fairness and justice; but those involved often come to see that, if “we” believed what “they” believe about a given situation, we’d be standing alongside them in solidarity. The door to deeper trust, reconciliation and meaningful friendship is opened when coworkers connect about their foundational principles.

What’s the alternative? If we presume that the differences in our basic personal principles are so fundamentally opposed that they cannot be reconciled, then, perhaps the best we can do is create a culture that compels employees to hide their core principles, or pretend they don’t exist. Is it feasible to do that? Does that strategy square with the goals of our diversity and inclusion programs? Is that “right?”

The good news is that, in the workplace, in our experience, the most divisive differences don’t flow from different fundamental principles of fairness. The biggest differences flow from different assumptions and perceptions. To be sure, hatred does surface sometimes. But it’s often grounded in misunderstanding. In any case, it’s better to see hatred out in the open, than to enable it to be concealed and be surprised when it rears its ugly head.

There’s hope for civility. Workplaces can be crucibles for peace, trust and warm friendship across cultures and across ideological walls. Among other vignettes, just consider the friendship between Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.

We’ll pursue this in future posts. In the meantime, we’d love to have your comments, thoughts and disagreement about these important things. Join the dialogue! Challenge us!

Comment on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Invitation: If you’re ready to advance civility and connection in the workplace, join us each week for Authenticity & Connection, a concise and thought-provoking reflection by Kent Johnson and guests; and help shape this important dialogue by weighing in via LinkedIn or Facebook.