by Fr. David Moser
(Concluded from issue #155-156)
The second major area of conflict for Orthodox Christians in the workplace involves moral and ethical issues. These are issues of behavior and attitude and are much more difficult to deal with because they involve our more deeply seated passions. In the workplace we are often confronted with "normal" behavior that is in fact immoral. I am not referring here to sexual improprieties. Actually, the truly tempting and sometimes almost unnoticed immoral behavior seems much more innocent. One of the most prevalent of these "normal" temptations is lying. In the workplace we frequently find ourselves in positions where it is expected to tell less than the truth, or to embellish the truth. Our statements may still be rooted in the truth, but they are "edited" for the situation. There are times, for example, when an office worker is asked to cover up the mistakes of a superior or to present a false front to a customer. Sometimes this involves an outright fabrication; at other times it is simply distortion, hiding flaws or fallacies. An even more "innocent" situation is the manipulation of numbers and statistics. Many companies rely on productivity statistics to market themselves, and they use the numbers to present a certain picture. The numbers may be real, and the facts may be there, but their presentation is arranged to produce a certain conclusion, whether or not that conclusion is valid. An employee may be asked to present this data as truth, knowing full well that the presentation implies conclusions that cannot be supported by the real situation. Is this lying? Is this a sin? Another place where lying is "expected" is in self-reporting of work. In a situation where a worker is expected to track his activity, it is easy to inflate numbers. Padding one's report, one's time card, the billing sheet, is a common, accepted, and even expected practice. Some people routinely bill for "thinking time" or for "research" that was only an excuse to nap. This kind of sanctioned dishonesty is so rampant that, in many cases, the honest employee appears to be less productive than his less honest coworkers. Some billing formulae even build in the cheating factor. If you bill by the "task" and the minimum billable time segment is 15 minutes then if you do three five-minute tasks, the only way to track them is to bill for forty-five minutes, when in fact you have worked all of fifteen minutes. Is this lying? Is this a sin?
Related to lying is the necessity of "blowing your own horn" in order to advance your career and get ahead. No one else will "market" you to the powers that be, and so you have to do it yourself. You are expected to boast of your accomplishments. The entire atmosphere of the workplace in which this is an expectation can become one of pride and self-aggrandizement. The worker who boasts the loudest gets promoted, gets the raise, or, in a poorer economy, gets retained. And yet as Christians we are expected to be humble, to count ourselves as nothing, to boast not in our own accomplishments and qualifications, but in Christ. Where is the middle ground? How can a Christian survive and prosper in the working world and yet avoid this atmosphere of pride?
Another moral conflict that many of us face in the workplace is theft - not blatant embezzlement or stealing "big ticket" items but the taking of small things: office supplies, copying, phone use, etc. We spend so much time at the workplace that often the borders between that which belongs to me and that which belongs to the company, or between my personal business and company business, can become blurred. Often the items involved are very small and inexpensive - almost worthless - and it is easy to rationalize that what we are doing is not really theft. Pens, pencils, paper clips, paper, etc., are all common items that seem to find their way out of the office - almost without noticing. Sometimes even more permanent items - staplers, hole punches, tape dispensers and other small tools - migrate home for some project and never seem to find their way back to the office.
In addition to the theft of "things," there is also the matter of how we use the resources to which the workplace may provide access: the phone system, computer/internet access, copy and fax machines, and so on. These resources are often misused for personal gain. These "invisible" thefts are perhaps even more prevalent and more tolerated than the theft of supplies.
In addition to the resources themselves, there is the issue of time, for which the employer is paying, being used to take care of such personal business. The theft of time accompanies the theft of supplies and the theft of resources, all of which are means by which we cheat our employer. The Christian response to all these moral conflicts involves self-denial and adherence to moral standards not of the world. We must measure our behavior by the commandments, and, in the cases noted above, that means specifically the 8th and 9th commandments. Honesty - even when dishonesty is encouraged - is necessary for the Christian, while dishonesty - including "little white lies" or "mostly true" reports, which may appear necessary for advancement in the workplace and material gain - is forbidden. In order to maintain this level of honesty, it is imperative that one's own goals be placed within the eternal rather than the worldly kingdom. In this world, we are all familiar with the concepts of delayed gratification and of accepting some momentary difficulty or struggle for the attainment of a greater gain in the long run. The same applies to eternity. We must be willing to accept the loss of worldly gain, of worldly reputation, etc, in order to obtain the riches of the kingdom of heaven. What is a transitory loss in this world next to the loss in eternity of one's soul?
The same principle applies to the "necessity" of "blowing your own horn." In order to keep things in perspective, one must keep in mind the ultimate necessity of saving one's soul. Therefore, when applying for a new position or competing for a promotion or raise, one must be honesty about oneself. List your real accomplishments and qualifications for the position at hand, but do not exaggerate or over-emphasize your capabilities. As you do these things, take care to avoid the seed of pride taking root as you look at all you have done. Make this a matter of prayer, recognizing that the talents, skills, and opportunities that you have had in order to achieve what you have done come not from you but from God, and that were it not for His mercy and His grace, you would have none of these things. Offer praise and thanksgiving to God constantly as you list your accomplishments, in your heart at least, turning all of your praise to Him and keeping none for yourself. This is a difficult exercise; however, it is necessary if one wishes to effectively combat pride.
As for access to resources in the workplace, keep close track of what is yours and what is not and do not allow even a small breach of that boundary. Often employers will have some type of allowance or policy, permitting the use of office resources for personal business. Whatever these policies are, adhere to them strictly. If there is a charge for photocopying, keep track of what you copy and make sure that the charge is paid. If there are guidelines or limits on personal phone calls, be certain that you abide by them. If you are allowed to use resources for personal business, make sure it is on your own time rather than that of the company. If you have questions about the propriety of any action, ask for clearance from the supervisor or whoever is in authority in that particular area.
One guideline is your own conscience - and if you feel as though you must "hide" an action or worry about being "found out," if there is secrecy involved, then it is something which should be avoided. This may sound "picky," but by maintaining this boundary strictly and not allowing yourself to cross it even to a small degree, you will protect yourself from greater temptations and falls.
Closely related to moral issues are ethical conflicts that arise in the workplace. These have to do with our attitudes and beliefs and how we either remain faithful to them or compromise them. One conflict which often appears is the conflict between Christian morals, values and standards and a less than upstanding business practice. Sometimes there are practices in a business which are contrary to Christian behavior, and the conflict arises as to whether to comply with the common practice or whether to stand upon principle and confront those who are backing the questionable practice. For those in a professional practice or in management positions there is another conflict of "dual relationships." Do we use our professional or supervisory relationships and influence with clients to subtly "coerce" them to be interested in Orthodoxy? In any work environment, there is informal interaction with coworkers in which almost every topic is discussed. Is it appropriate to "push" your own religion in these discussions, and how do you differentiate between "coercion" and a simple expression of your beliefs? In the course of such innocuous discussions, assumptions will be made that "we all believe in the same God" and that "we are all Christians, right?" The quandary is whether or not to let such an assumption remain, especially if it is unspoken. These are all questions of attitudes and principles which can lead to conflict.
In addition to the above mentioned conflicts there is another which arises in a work environment where there is a strong heterodox religious presence - for example, in a business which is Christian in some fashioned makes a point of employing only Christians or those who comply with certain Christian beliefs or standards of behavior. Or perhaps within a purely secular business there is a group of strongly committed Christians of mixed backgrounds, who find some sort of camaraderie in their shared basis of belief and who then gather either formally or informally for some kind of religious meeting. How do Orthodox Christians relate to such a group. Is it possible to be a part of such a group without participating in common prayer? How should our personal prayer life relate to our workplace, our customers, our coworkers, our boss? Can we ignore the differences in belief in order to be a part of such a group of people with whom we, without question, share so much?
In these conflicts, many of the principles already discussed about moral behavior apply. It is important to retain an eternal perspective. We must recall that we are not competing here for earthly rewards and earthly consolations, but for those of the Kingdom of Heaven. All that we have comes not from ourselves but from God, and therefore His standards and actions must always be a part of our reactions. The principle which applies to witnessing and dual relationships is that of being who we are, Orthodox Christians. We do not need to persuade anyone to follow Christ or to enter the Church. Our task is to present the option of the Church and to open the door for others. Let God do the persuasion. Therefore, do not be shy about your beliefs, "Let your light so shine among men..." Your entire life should be a sufficient witness. Answer questions and provide information and explanations when asked. The Holy Spirit is the One to affect the soul, the One who persuades and draws the soul to Himself. We do not need to "drive" others before us into the Church; we need only to hold open the gate and allow the Holy Spirit to draw people in. Now this puts the burden on each of us to be a good source of light by our behavior and our consistent Orthodox Christian life, presenting a clear and open path to the Church, and not, by our behavior and our lives, closing the gate and driving people away. This is a reflection on the oft quoted saying of Saint Seraphim of Sarov: "Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved." (Actually, "save yourself" is more accurately rendered "acquire the Spirit of Peace.")
As for prayer, we should make a practice of praying for our customers, our co-workers, our bosses. This is one area where we can most intimately and effectively affect others. We don't always know what the needs of others are, but we can simply pray, "Lord have mercy on N.(name)," and let God act upon them according to His mercy and His awareness of the particular needs of each soul for its salvation. It is, however, best to refrain from participating in heterodox prayer meetings or Bible studies. Our faith is both expressed and shaped by our prayers. By joining in the prayers of heterodox Christians we unwittingly incorporate their false beliefs into our own prayer and life. Because this action is on the non-verbal level of direct action on the soul, only one who is well versed in the spiritual life such that he can clearly discern, at the very least, the depths and condition of his own heart has a chance of catching this undue influence on the soul. Bible studies are the same, for they presume that we all have the same basic belief and the right to interpret the Sacred Scripture as we personally wish. For those who have not had the experience, it is important to know that when one begins to talk about Holy Tradition, the lives of saints, the writings of the fathers, liturgical practice, etc., in relation to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, most heterodox will either ignore it or actively resist it. The better course is to live your life according to the teaching of the Church as best you can and let them "read" the true interpretation of Scripture in the living book of your life.
Living a Christian life in the workplace is simply a microcosm of living a Christian life in the world at large. The temptations and conflicts are the same. Our faith contains everything we need to live as Christians in the workplace and in the world. We must center our minds and hearts on the things of Heaven and let our actions be governed, not by the considerations of the world but by the desire to gain that which is eternal. If we concentrate on working out our own salvation, on acquiring the Holy Spirit, then we will become lights shining in the darkness, through whom the Holy Spirit will draw all men to Himself.
The subject of religion in the workplace has been appearing more frequently in the news, following the growing recognition that this phenomenon is "producing positive results in productivity and job satisfaction" (Religion Watch, Nov. 1999). Overall, the picture appears rather muddled. On the one hand, there are thousands of prayer groups and Bible studies active in workplaces across the country, but, a survey conducted earlier this year found that "there is a sharp increase of American workers accusing their employers of religious discrimination" (RW, March 1999). This year the American Center for Law and Justice published a booklet, Religious Freedom in the Workplace, which we will use in future issues, providing additional guidelines in this area. Meanwhile, we invite readers to share their experiences of being Orthodox "on the job."-Ed.
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