People often confuse professionalism with the inability to be oneself in the workplace. We tend to think that certain parts of our lives are better left for our friends outside of work. However, for those in the workforce, that is where you spend the majority of your time. If we are constantly expected to be someone else while we are at work when will we ever find the time to be ourselves? And can suppressing who we truly are for so many hours a day inadvertently change our nature?
These questions have come up recently at my work and especially within the context of religion.
I work in a very liberal environment where many LDS people do not feel comfortable bringing up their beliefs with coworkers. When people would ask me where I was getting married I hesitated to tell them that it was in the Salt Lake temple. When I revealed myself as an active member of the LDS church I would occasionally bond with a closeted Mormon who found strength in my ability to openly share the part of my identity tied to my religion. Unfortunately, I would also run into people who were not so accepting.
Just last week before General Conference, a coworker of mine asked me what I was doing over the weekend. I told him that I would be watching General Conference with my family. His response was to tell me that he loves to go to a certain bar with an open patio during that weekend in order to heckle Mormons on their way to the conference center. I was stunned by his response and no longer interested in continuing my conversation with him.
This is a microaggression, defined by psychologist Derald Wing Sue as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.”
It has taken me years to stand up for my beliefs and years ago I never would have shared my thoughts on this but I have reached a point in my own testimony where I no longer want to stand for religious microaggression. No one should feel threatened to be themselves in a work environment for any reason whether it be related to race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or any other group affiliation.
I cannot speak for other marginalized groups but if you have felt the pressure to change due to microaggression in the workplace, specifically religious microaggression towards the LDS faith, here are a few pointers on how to respond.
Your first instinct might be to respond or to defend yourself and your faith in some way. Don’t. Also, don’t allow listening to turn into letting someone bully you. Instead, listening should be a learning opportunity for you to find out the pain points someone may have with the church. Living in Utah my whole life, a general emotion expressed by people, not of our faith is that they feel excluded from our religion; either by our values or by members they have encountered before.
I never had to say a word in order to find out these pain points. However, by listening I have made sure that people don’t feel attacked by me simply because of my religion. This alone can help break down microaggressive comments directed towards you.
Respect Their Stance
It is important to remember that we don’t want to make someone else feel threatened simply because they think differently than us. We are all children of our Heavenly Father and although he may want all of us to return to him, angry and forceful responses aren’t convincing. In fact, they turn us into the bad guys. Remember the commandment in John 13 to “love one another” and you can’t go wrong. Generally, you will find that most people don’t intend to be offensive with their comments and you should never seek out to offend someone with your own values and beliefs.
Stand Up For Your Beliefs
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has something that no other organization on the earth has, the entirety of the gospel. It is beautiful, it is powerful, and it is our jobs to testify of its truth.
Let’s not get confused. It is not your job to force it onto other people but I would say that it is definitely your job to be a champion of truth. The best way to do that is to share your own truth. Share the testimony that you have with others. Share how the church has personally blessed you and invite them to ask you any questions they may have about the church in the future. This will give them an opportunity to learn about the church from a positive source.
There is a fine balance between standing up for your beliefs and forcing them onto someone else. It’s important to be who you are and allow others to be themselves at work. Remember your worth and the worth of others in Heavenly Father’s eyes and perhaps we can all break down microaggression in the workplace.