Being ‘love’ at work21 Jul 2015
Work culture and morale were crumbling at my work. A new senior manager, while good and kind and approachable initially, had now for various reasons become ambitious, sneaky and untrustworthy. A once collaborative, humble group of staff working towards a common goal of creating safer environments was now being encouraged to seek ambition, to compete against peers, to think of self first.
My team was particularly the focus of this attack as the senior manager had apparently taken a deep and vengeful dislike to my immediate manager, a gentle and kind man, and appeared to have him as a target of derision.
I was in strife. There was a part of me that tried to continue on, trying to see God in others, trying my hardest in my work, seeking fairness. But even I was changing. I could see my immediate manager’s pain as he suffered humiliation at the hands of this senior manager. I responded in anger and indignation on his behalf as he shared with the team indications of financial corruption by upper management so our team and his leadership were presented in a negative way. My heart was hardening towards the senior manager. From being friends when he initially arrived, my dropping in to his office to impart my own ‘tuppence of wisdom’, I now could hardly look at him without my eyes filling with hate. Knowing I was wrong in this, I tried to negate this by muttering under my breath “be nice, be nice” but my smile of greeting as we passed by in the corridor would turn in to a grimace that I had to turn my face to hide.
Things climaxed when the senior manager refused to renew my immediate boss’s contract for little valid reason. Our workplace was left reeling as one of the most senior, most experienced, most knowledgeable and loveable staff members was “thrown out on to the streets” with no respect shown for his 20 plus years of service.
Fuelled with a need to voice my opposition of his treatment, and I believe impassioned by the Holy Spirit, I spoke up quietly and in a controlled manner, in front of the senior manager and all staff, listing the ways in which my manager had been wronged and how the centre had lost as a whole because of all the ambitious and unfair actions of the recent past.
I then determined to quit the workplace, not wanting to be part of a workplace that treated people thus. I was ready; when the dust had settled, I would hand in my resignation. I was sure it was the right thing to do. I had to stand up for justice, that’s what I thought. I strode up and down in my office, astride my high-horse, mentally listing the reasons for leaving; self-righteous, sure. And then – a quiet, still voice inside me asked: “then who will love him?” All the angst, the internal noise and turmoil, the anger, quietened and I cocked my head in confusion, before it dawned on me. If I as a Catholic can’t love the “unlovable”, who will show the face of God to this senior manager, this broken soul.
No, God, you can’t mean that, I argued, I don’t want to love this guy, a guy who has brought such distress and pain and ugliness to a once beautiful workplace. And yet, that’s what I was called to do.
I didn’t like it, but I didn’t quit the workplace. With much spiritual direction and very regular confession, God converted my self-righteous, proud and hardened heart, such that, six months later, I could warmly hug this same senior manager at Christmas and swap with him anecdotes of our respective families’ Christmas gatherings. In the end it seems it was I who gained immensely from not quitting. I thought I was meant to teach, but apparently I am meant to learn.
Nirmalene Candappa is a Research Fellow who also has a deep interest in faith matters.