by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
“Civil discourse” doesn’t spring to mind in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions on prayer and abortion. Instead, regardless of what “side” one takes on the issues, we’re being taunted and shoved into fights and power plays.
Humanity is better than this.
I see two counterproductive reactions to the decisions on abortion and prayer: First is the tendency to vilify and disengage from those who disagree. Second is the tendency to invoke political power plays in order to impose one’s way at others’ expense. Both spawn resentment, anger, and cynicism about the judicial process, and toward each other.
Corporations Are Promoting Civil Discourse From Within
Today, I believe business is in a position to light a path to a better way. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has illustrated how companies are increasingly adopting religion and belief as an integral part of their “diversity, equity and inclusion” focus. These companies acknowledge significant differences in worldview and theology yet promote deep connection and civil discourse. Companies like those at the top of the REDI Index have shown it’s possible. It’s happening. And it’s transformative. (See these posts for some examples.)
One of the key success factors behind the religious diversity movement is its emphasis on the dignity and worth of every human being, regardless of one’s belief or position on social issues. The fact of the matter is that we work day after day alongside people who embrace different beliefs and values. In a corporate culture that frowns on any discussion of faith and core belief, we might hope for a measure of peace and collaboration based on ignorance of the others’ views. But such a “peace” is fragile. It’s based on a fear that knowledge of coworkers’ different faiths and beliefs would inevitably cause damaging conflict. It ignores the fact that today, people tend to jump to conclusions and distrust one another based on even a hint of their contrary affiliations. More importantly, restrictive cultures like these send the message that the core beliefs that people consider central to their core identity are a liability at work. People’s core beliefs are presumed to be hateful. Their dignity and worth is disrespected.
Humans are better than this.
There’s a startling mystery being unveiled day after day in companies that embrace faith and belief as integral to their diversity programs. The mystery is that people can respect the dignity and worth of others without agreeing with them on specific core values and beliefs. Individuals need not compromise their beliefs in order to respect others, and to care deeply for others. They can listen deeply to those who differ. They can find common ground and navigate differences with civility and mutual respect. It’s happening.
I’m NOT saying that we should expect the workplace to be the forum for resolving all social issues. Many differences are substantive and intractable. And I’m NOT saying companies should goad people into debates on political and social issues. What I am saying is that the world should observe what’s happening increasingly in the workplaces of companies that embrace faith and belief. Civility and mutual respect cannot be achieved by force, or by media pronouncements of people who are disconnected from the other side. It’s possible in one-to-one personal relationships, day by day. Like those in our workplaces.
A final thought for readers who think this view is naïve. Perhaps you’re concerned that friendships with the “enemy” may enable them to force their way on society. Consistent with your core beliefs, I’d ask you to listen deeply to your colleague. Ask questions with the purpose and intent of helping you understand the other’s point of view. Consider whether, at the end of the day, this one-on-one relationship grounded on understanding and affection might produce more fertile ground for reconciliation than a relationship based on power.
This is civil discourse, step by step. It’s happening in our workplaces. Let’s encourage it.