However, the owner/operator started bringing in political signs (of a particular conservative group) into the shop over the weekend. When I first saw the signs, I think all the blood drained out of my face and my co-workers could tell something was wrong. It really caught me off-guard as I work for a state government agency and thought I wouldn’t have to worry about “politics” at my part-time gig. Lots of opinions were expressed and situations shared (including some expressing that if their parents really knew how they thought/felt, they’d be kicked out of the house), and I think I probably should have kept a few comments to myself.
While they weren’t egregious, what do I do now that I’ve shared a bit more about my views than I intended? And how do I remain neutral in the workplace? You’ve probably guessed that the political views of my conservative owner/manager are not in line with my own and you are absolutely correct. I’ve left employment in the past when the values of the company did not match mine, but can this part-time gig be saved?
— Politically Challenged
Politically Challenged: What does it mean to be an ethical consumer? An ethical worker? These are questions that float in and out of the atmosphere, like summer dandelion seeds — or, better yet, like dust — always there to be felt and grappled with, so ubiquitous that you barely remember they’re there. The reality is that negotiations must be made to be a member of society, which means that what constitutes “ethical” exists on a curve.
Is it ethical, for instance, to buy a composter from a store that contributed to deforestation? The people working at this newspaper are some of the most gifted, rigorous, and conscientious people in this industry, and yet someone could ask, “How can they be so conscientious if they work for the world’s richest man?” and no answer would be great.
What I’m saying here is that if you pulled the curtain back far enough and did research on each of the CEOs and owners and managers and board members where you’ve been employed, I’m certain you’d find political and/or moral justification to leave each place. (Including, of course, your job in the state government agency.) The main difference here is that your boss’s beliefs are too conspicuous to be ignored.
So, what should you do? There are levels of offensiveness, and you must determine where the line is for you. These signs that you saw — did you witness him carry them from his car into his closed-door office, or is the restaurant now littered with them? Or let’s say, for instance, that you’ve learned that your boss is pro-gun. Did you discover that because of an NRA bumper sticker on his truck, or did he come to work one day with a T-shirt saying Black Rifles Matter? Does that distinction, between the more subtle political belief and the intentionally provocative one, matter to you? If so, is that enough to leave a job?
I honestly don’t think it’s realistic, today, to be politically neutral at work. (Even the suggestion of political neutrality is a privilege exclusive to White Americans. For non-White people, something as mundane and innocuous as our hairstyles or even our first names can be considered political statements by employers.) And I don’t think it’s possible to walk back your beliefs or what you shared with your co-workers. Even if it were, I don’t think you should. Perhaps you can add some context to them, to give your teenage colleagues a more nuanced political perspective, but stand firm. Plus, how would the mechanics of walking them back even work? (“Hey guys. Remember everything I said last Tuesday about LGBTQ rights? I was just kidding!”)
If your boss’s expressed beliefs are in direct contradiction to your values, and this is causing you enough spiritual consternation to ask for advice about it, I think you should quit. And, if you have the opportunity, I think you should tell him why. If this were your full-time employment, maybe my advice would be different. But I presume you can get another part-time, food-related job, so why stay at one that compels you to even ask these questions?
Do you have an uncomfortable question? Ask advice columnist Damon Young, who’s comfortable with the uncomfortable.