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by Vault Careers | November 02, 2010


If you were in Washington, D.C. this past Saturday, you may have heard a bit of hubbub coming from the direction of the National Mall, or sensed something amiss as you waited 40 minutes for the Metro. Or maybe you were somewhere else entirely, and found that the day's only news story was about a "Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear)."

Hosted by Comedy Central stalwarts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the rally was billed as an apolitical response to a wave of recent Tea Party protests in the nation's capital. In the weeks leading up, pundits grappled to pinpoint the rally's intent; even days later, it's still up for debate. As just one of the many thousands who attended, I can only offer my own perspective: The event displayed that, despite media depictions to the contrary, Americans will always work together to accomplish and persevere without letting ideologies get in the way.

Stewart said as much during his closing remarks. "[We hear] how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don't is here or on cable TV. But Americans don't live here or on cable TV. [...] Most Americans don't live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives."

Those words struck a chord with me. To hear MSNBC or Fox News tell it, an outsider might imagine American streets teeming with clashing citizens battling a "Culture War." But in businesses and schools everywhere, people go about their lives and careers without much incident, cooperating with one another regardless of affiliation. As people and professionals, we're all working toward a unified goal.

It helps that political discussion is rare in the workplace—or at least it should be. Anyone who ever engaged in office debate will tell you it is hardly conducive to a productive environment. I can recall working at one (now defunct) company years ago, where managers often stirred up heated rhetoric amongst themselves and staff; nine times out of ten, it ended in shouting. One could practically chart the correlation of time spent on vitriolic debate to shrinking revenue.

Sure, politics can arise in office chats. But, as Vault career experts will attest, it need not dissolve into animosity.

  • The best option is not to engage. Along with religion and sex, politics is traditionally taboo in polite company. Should the topic arise, play it safe and politely abstain.
  • • If the question of politics can't be avoided, don't tout your opinion as gospel. Remember that your views are your own, and others are entitled to theirs. Rarely is there one correct way to look at things.
  • Don't make assumptions about others' opinions. Conservatives and liberals are not so easy to spot as you'd think. Presuming that someone will agree or disagree with your views can leave you blindsided.
  • Debate, don't criticize. Healthy, productive debate exists when everyone can express themselves without having their character called into question. That's precisely how civility breaks down.

Whatever your beliefs, each of your coworkers is still an ally. And who they vote for or what they think of the capital gains tax doesn't matter nearly as much on a day-to-day basis as combining your strengths to stay ahead and see each task, presentation and project through to the best possible outcome.

As Stewart put it, "The truth is there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together."

-- Alex Tuttle,


Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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