Thursday, April 05, 2007

Inclusive and Non-Offensive

I work for one division of a huge company. My location has less than thirty people. So it creates an interesting culture where we have many of the benefits, structure, and bureaucracy of a large company and yet much of the closeness of a small group. Our office space is shared with other divisions, but for the most part we do our own thing in our own corner (so to speak).
It creates interesting scenarios since most of the folks here are Christian, with varying levels of outward practice. (I recognize that many people that consider themselves Christian do not feel that church attendance and such is a requirement. I am not disagreeing, I am simply stating that there are differences.) We have two Jewish people. And we have me (although I don't spend a lot of time at work explaining that I am UU, neither do I hide it, most people seem to assume I am Christian.)
Our location used to be larger. We used to have anti-pagan Christians, and Jehovah's Witnesses and Buddhists and even a Muslim or two. And yet, whether it is our decreased size, or the fact that we have a number of people who have been here quite a while (myself included), there is a lack of inclusivity that I am seeing. Nothing terrible. Nothing offensive. But problematic. And I think, much like racism, that is kind of the bump we are stuck at today - that people think as long as they are not accusing someone of terrorism or stupidity - ie not being offensive - that their work is done. But failing to offend is not the same as being inclusive of religious diversity.
Some of it I think is lack of knowledge. I have had people ask me why anyone would actually object to "The Passion of the Christ" since it is historically accurate and I pointed out to them that historically accurate and Biblically accurate are not interchangeable for everyone. I explained to one co-worker who Mohammed was, and his significance within the Muslim faith. And some of it, I think is just - I hesitate to say narrow mindedness because I don't thinks it's resistance to inclusivity so much as lack of recognition that inclusivity is a meaningful goal. (Which I guess is narrow mindedness after all.)
A co-worker brought in a colorful basket with various candies and left it out for folks. Some of the candies were encased in plastic eggs. She referred to them as Spring eggs. Another co-worker responded that since a Jewish co-worker was telecommuting, we could call them Easter eggs. I pointed out that it wasn't just that co-worker who didn't celebrate Easter and was asked who else didn't. (I do recognize now that I didn't help matters by leaving it framed as who do we need to allow for, rather than just why can't we just call them Spring eggs).
And I do recognize the the Christian adaptation of a number of pagan rituals has muddied the waters - colored eggs, decorative trees, and exchanges of presents and food do not scream, "I love Jesus," so it is hard to see why participating in such rituals is problematic.
And certainly, I don't think food or twinkly lights are - of themselves - problematic. And it's hard when you feel you have taken into account all thirty people to understand that it makes sense to make this an environment where different beliefs are acceptable when everyone here mostly believes X so why not. And of course one person decorating their cube or bringing stuff in is totally different from a work sanctioned celebration.
Do I think if our next hire was Hindu (to pick one) we would be welcoming and accepting? I do. But I'm not sure the Hindu person would be able to see that right away. And that's why trying to start from a place of inclusivity works better than trying to retro-fit each person's beliefs into an existing - if unofficial - structure.