By Carl Carter, APR
When I was just starting my career, I knew a guy who was such a devout Christian he would read his Bible and “share his faith” regularly on company time. After several warnings, he got fired, and he declared himself a martyr who was “fired for being a Christian.”
He wasn’t. He was fired for not doing his job.
And that’s the essence of a lot of the confusion I see these days in the debate about how much of ourselves to reveal on social media. One of the standard bits of professional advice we hear is that we should never talk about politics or religion. The topics are too divisive, and there are too many angry people, for us to safely “go there.”
At the same time, Christians are told to let their lights shine. We have a two-party political system in which both Republicans and Democrats have played vital roles of which adherents can be proud. Some of us pull for Alabama, or Auburn, or Notre Dame, or (gasp) even Ohio State, and for the most part, none of those produces alumni who are inherently evil.
In case nobody noticed, we just came through a horrendously bitter political season. As the political memes got more nasty (and deceptive), we also heard urgent warnings to cool it with the politics. We read about people being fired, and were cautioned that people who don’t share our views might quit doing business with us if we expressed our views or affiliations on social media.
Now that things have cooled off a bit, maybe it’s a good time to challenge some assumptions. Maybe it’s not what you believe that should be a cause for concern. Maybe it’s how you behave.
During the campaign, I saw Republicans and Democrats alike passing on fake news and misleading memes that ridiculed and insulted those who might disagree. I also saw many others either remaining on the sidelines or occasionally stating their case in clear and civil words. I can’t prove it in the short term, but I suspect the latter are the ones who influenced more people to their way of thinking.
Here are some traits that, unless I’m badly mistaken, will almost always be well received by people of all stripes.
Thinking for yourself. Most people, even the ones shouting angrily on social media, understand the self-defeating nature of being surrounded by people who all think alike. Our different backgrounds cause us to come at challenges from different angles, providing different insights. One of us will see possibilities another might miss. Your uniqueness may be just the thing that makes you most valuable to others.
Identifying with your church, your party, your school or your civic club. We learn, gain encouragement, and enjoy a richer social life by participating in various groups and causes in our communities. It makes us people, and not “empty suits” with social media accounts. I’m a Democrat (not easy in Alabama), a Braves fan (tragic, I know), a woodworker and a lover of dogs, good music and pulp detective novels. I don’t think anybody is going to disown me over any of those. (They might for being a Crimson Tide alum and fan, so I keep that on the downlow.)
Treating others with civility. Even when the angry voices of the recent election year were at their zenith, I never saw any sign that basic politeness was out of style. Those using good manners were less obvious, but they also tended to be people I’m more likely to respect and follow.
Being really good at what you do. We all have a “halo” effect of sorts. If we’re really good at something people know about, they assume we’re smarter or better than we might really be. If I do great work for my PR clients, that earns me the benefit of the doubt in other areas.
If we know how to behave, I don’t see any reason why most of us should have to hide our beliefs or affiliations. For years, I’ve said, “Be who you are.” Being a phony is just too damn much work. If you’re gay, Republican, Democrat, Lutheran, Pentecostalist or atheist, it’s up to you to decide how “out” you want to be about it. If you pursue excellence, treat people with respect, and show yourself to be a decent person who cares about others, that matters to most folks more than all the labels we fret over.