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The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
How do I become Baha’i?

How to Deal with a Dysfunctional Work Environment

Derrick Stone | Sep 21, 2017

PART 1 IN SERIES Being Spiritual at Work

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Derrick Stone | Sep 21, 2017

PART 1 IN SERIES Being Spiritual at Work

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

While I would prefer to spend time with my happy family or otherwise serving humanity, the reality is, I spend most of my day at the office.

Many people do. If we sleep a third of our lives, we must spend even more than a third working. Compared to all of life’s other endeavors, work seems to dominate our lives and take up most of our time. Perhaps that will change in the future, we can all hope, but for now most of us have to work to live.

Which brings up a few important questions: how do we merge our work lives and our spiritual lives? How do we use our spiritual resources to deal with a dysfunctional work environment?

After all, everyone encounters great spiritual challenges at work: corporate cultures over which we have little control, leadership with values that differ from our own, and accepted-as-normal but often unhealthy attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes, specific other people become our greatest challenge!

As it happens, religion is the perfect thing to have with you when you go to work, even if you work in a negative, dysfunctional job. When you need to get along with other people, your spiritual values and principles will inevitably shine through. The Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi, wrote “the fundamental purpose of religion is to promote concord and harmony. If you’d like a little more concord and harmony at work, follow the spiritual advice you’ll find in the Baha’i teachings.

Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, brought new principles and patterns of behavior to allow humanity to live happily and in peace as the world shrinks. These teachings require personal transformation to adapt to our co-religionists, much less our co-workers, who may have a completely different outlook on how to behave.

Translating the holy writings of the Baha’i Faith into action can be challenging at any time, and especially daunting if some of the teachings oppose standards of behavior in your workplace. Thinking about this inspired me to ask a few fellow Baha’is this question: What specific Baha’i teachings are important to remember at work? In this essay and the following one, we’ll explore some of the answers I received.

Have an Open Mind

Having an open mind means that we do not automatically disregard the views and opinions of our co-workers, or hold those views in contempt. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, we want to avoid hurting any person’s feelings. Kindness toward others will encourage future participation, while disregard for their ideas will disengage that person and their ability to consider alternate perspectives. Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

O ye lovers of God! Be kind to all peoples; care for every person; do all ye can to purify the hearts and minds of men; strive ye to gladden every soul. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 244-245.

Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe. Pray ye for all; ask ye that all be blessed, all be forgiven. Beware, beware, lest any of you seek vengeance, even against one who is thirsting for your blood. Beware, beware, lest ye offend the feelings of another, even though he be an evil-doer, and he wish you ill. Look ye not upon the creatures, turn ye to their Creator. – Ibid., p. 73.

Truth is Relative.

Shoghi Effendi wrote, “Truth may, in covering different subjects, appear to be contradictory.” Truth is relative. Acknowledgement of this acceptable variation in human experience and understanding provides room for many perspectives.

You and your co-worker may look at an issue with different perspectives and arrive at a different conclusions. Both perspectives may be true—so time spent arguing is often a waste of time. Seek to understand your co-worker’s perspective and make up your own mind, then offer your perspective without any attachment to it. The moment we judge our knowledge as better or worse than our co-worker, we run the risk of missing some unconsidered aspect of the truth.

Look Inward

Having an open mind and recognizing the relativity of truth also means looking inward to find room for personal improvement. Baha’u’llah advises us to do this each day:

O Son of Being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. – The Hidden Words, p. 11.

Have you ever left a difficult or unpleasant work environment to find different people—and the same challenges? This might be a clue that you bear some responsibility for the situations you encountered. Uncovering the truth about yourself requires relentless honesty, and the recognition that some of the challenges you find at work may have nothing to do with the workplace itself.

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  • Sheila Guttman
    Sep 23, 2017
    I've spoke up against bad behavior and i lost my job too
  • Sep 21, 2017
    How can you deal with it if people in your workplace have violent, racist ideas and press them on everyone else? And those who don't share those ideas are afraid to speak up? I am not there now, but I have been several times in the past. I found out what happens if you speak politely against the violence. I lost my job.
    • Melanie Black
      Sep 21, 2017
      Hello Daniel, your past situation sounds painful and dispiriting. I am reminded of Baha'u'llah's injunction to eschew fellowship with the ungodly. I believe there is a quote about this somewhere in "The Hidden Words". Without knowing the situation you were in, might I suggest that perhaps you were not meant to stay at that job?
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