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26 September 2008

Those Given To Us

Well, they include those we work with, and we all know those folks impact our lives in a multitude of ways.

My immediate co-workers (English teacher subset) are eminently talented teachers, and eminently intelligent; most are truly fun to know, and blessings to their students. The majority of them (or at least the vocal majority), are also quite different from me in two key areas: politically, and religiously. Their politics, as one might expect, are mostly quite liberal; their religious beliefs are hard to categorize without deeper conversation, but suffice it say they display either a contempt for, or at least an ambivalence toward, religious institutions and church attendance.

If I had my way, it would never occur to anyone to bring these areas up in the workplace; and yet (especially as election fever has been rising over the last year) in my time at School #2 I've been stuck in the middle of countless English teacher break room/lunch break/after-the-bell-hanging-out gatherings that have, seemingly spontaneously, broken out into political/religious harangue sessions (today at lunch was the latest example). The language always seems to turn bitter and salty, and the certitude more, well, certain. And I have been the lone one in the room who might disagree with them. Last March, when I finally admitted I was refusing an offered cookie because chocolate was one of the things I gave up during Lent, the room suddenly turned into a funeral parlor. I don't conflate religion with politics, but imagine if I had added a positive comment about the surge in Iraq while I was at it.

Hard to say this without sounding like a braggart, but it's funny that in the department I'm probably the most scholarly, the most egg-headed, and the most seriously read of them all. Not a feather in my cap; it's just the way I roll, and my particular experience. But I'm also the most likely to hang out with, in fact to be one of, the petty bourgeouise who mows his yard, helps coach baseball, and doesn't cringe when someone says grace before a meal. Others who don't share my politics or religious beliefs do the same, but I find these folks much more like me than like my colleagues.

The everlasting question is, what to do in these awkward work situations, which, if I had my way, would never arise in the first place? To this point, I've basically remained silent. I feel neither the energy/interest to engage in political office debates, nor feel I possess the skill for them (the Wyfe might serve as a wonderful stand-in for me in such matters). It seems I am much less inclined to view my fellow man in political terms than they are, anyway.

Still, part of me believes I'm a wimp, pure and simple

I suppose I would be more comfortable with religious conversations, but I'm not one to bring these up, and don't feel my colleagues would engage in good faith anyway. To them, it seems, non-lapsed Christians fit all the worst caricatures of dumb redneck gay-haters.

Mostly, I wonder at their contempt and bitterness. I don't think they are idiots or rubes, and try to see their religious hang-ups, in particular, through compassionate eyes. Not everyone like them says what they do, or behaves as they do, so I try to resist engaging in caricaturing them the way they do to others. But they sure don't make it easy.

O.k., enough whining, Schoolboy.


Fred said...

You're right to resist the temptation to debate superficially, but in time friendships will develop in which you will express yourself more freely... I felt much the same when I was substituting, and in the office I also find the same superficiality even if the discussion is less ideological: a common mentality is heard full of preconception and negativity...

School Master P said...

I guessed you might have something helpful to say on this one, Fred. Thanks!

Michael said...

Contempt and bitterness tend to arise from familiarity. There's no anti-Catholic like a lapsed Catholic, for example, who is often responding to the worst elements in the church of his raising. (It's the reverse of those who call for a return to sacred tradition, by which they often mean a return to the common practice of their childhood.) There's a disconnect between Sunday-go-to-meeting rhetoric and six-day-a-week behavior for most people, and those who notice it sometimes take it to mean that church is a lie and all Christians are hypocrites. Too much of the rhetoric of Christians in the public sphere (at least as reported by the MSM) is reduced to denouncing their "enemies," and casting them as traitors. Reasonable people, who see bad behavior among churchgoers, and who hear "Christians" blasting others for their apparently innocuous ideas or behavior, tend to reject that. Until you demonstrate over time that you're a good guy, they're going to worry that you're one of the jerks who represents the Christianity they're used to. Remember St. Francis: "preach constantly; use words if necessary."

As to politics, OTOH, voting Republican truly is an act of objective evil, so good luck there. ;-)

Belle said...

Probably not worth it to engage them, certainly not this close to the election. I myself have stayed away from certain events (even at our church!) due to the proximity of the election and my lack of desire to debate.

As for the conception they have of church-goers, and I do think that must be the image they have, as opposed to of Christian believers, that is probably a fair assumption. The Church - in all its forms - seems to have a serious image problem. Caused by what? I think a lack of action on social justice issues and too much action on conversion and evangelical missions. That seems to be changing - perhaps we are coming to a point where church going will not be so vilified by those of a liberal slant. I happen to know of a few bleeding hearts who go to church, nay, even work for one!!!

All this wordiness to say: I feel your pain. Hang in there - November 4 is coming and hopefully then the talk will turn to something less volatile. How about that Pack??!!