I recently attended an intra-company conference a.k.a. massive forced networking event. Being so positive on humanity generally, as you all know I am, I anticipated meeting dozens of really awesome people who are totally worth my time. Haha, jk. But actually it turned out to be pretty okay. A couple of days of fun, frivolous conversation and professional education left me feeling pretty good about the caliber of the associates at my firm.
So we get down to the very last day. The conference is technically over, and I'm chattering away with "Bob" from the "Somewhere in the South" office, passing the time, chewing the cud, etc., waiting for our respective transportation to arrive. Being incurably hard-wired to bring up controversial subjects if left in conversation for more than two minutes, I end up sort of indirectly ranting about religion. Not in the "here are 5,000 reasons off the top of my head why religion is totally retarded" kind of way; more like "and this one time, at church camp, the minister gave a sermon about Lord of the Rings." Strictly lighthearted, amusing, non-offensive stuff.
When I eventually come up for air, it's "Bob's" turn to amuse me. He begins talking about the highly evangelical, "in your face" Christians and why he thinks they have it wrong. Then, in a completely off-hand aside, he casually mentions that he considers homosexuality "a sin against God."
About 50 thoughts hit me simultaneously. Oh my god, I've been living out West too long, I forgot some people actually think this stuff, but then with Prop 8, maybe there are more of them out West than I think, is this what having a global company means, all these offices with different cultures and some of them are going to think God hates the gays, and am I going to have to deal with this for as long as I work here, are there people in my own office who think this shit and I don't even know, and what do I do, do I call him an idiot and walk away or do I have to be polite since he didn't bat an eye at my atheism, would it be a violation of company policy to give my unfettered opinion or would it just be career suicide, I wonder how many of the other people I met have similar ideas, thank god there wasn't time for more deep conversations this week, oh my god, he's still talking, what do I do?
At this point, someone interrupted us, and I simply walked away, resolved to never speak to "Bob" again. But what if we hadn't been interrupted? What if this had happened on day one of the conference? What if it had happened with someone in my own office? I don't even know what I'm allowed by my company to say, let alone what I should say.
Believe me, I am used to being at odds with everyone around me. It comes with the territory when you hate babies and trees, think selfishness is a virtue, and oppose corporate charity. I disagree with 90% of people about 90% of things, but there are relatively few disagreements that will make me want to have nothing to do with a person. So what happens when one of those few interjects itself at work?
I know that people are responsible for what they think. I know that I am responsible for judging people for their choices, which in part means not letting them get away with being fucking morons. I know that homosexuality and morality is a personally significant issue for me, second only to children's rights in my hierarchy. I know that changing the culture has to begin somewhere and that refusing to do business with racists, sexists, and homophobes is a contribution each of us is capable of making in our own lives.
I also know that most people don't take ideas that seriously and don't think that well. I know that most people say one thing and act another. I know that my career is incredibly precious to me, probably worth more than one minor stand, even on a major issue. I know that many of my coworkers already think I'm going to Hell for being atheist, well before consideration of my sexual behaviors. Does one more stupid belief matter, especially one so prevalent as to be virtually inescapable?
Thanks to Facebook, I now know that out of my handful of new coworker-friends, four are Christian, one with an "About Me" section that talks exclusively about praising God and another with Mother Teresa quotations (the only thing worse than the Dalai Lama), and, by far worst of all, one lists her political views as a completely unacceptable "moderate." Work is not where I get my close friends, and that's completely fine. But how do I work every day with someone who is my active enemy politically and culturally?
I'm honestly asking. Anyone?