Her Name Was Lola …

The Atlantic Daily has published a piece called It’s Okay to Like Barry Manilow. Well, phew! I wasn’t aware it was verboten, but thanks for that. Good to know we can have different opinions, but a recent article in HR Online by Caroline Riches, was more disturbing than the fact that I now can’t get Copacabana out of my head.

According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, which surveyed over 32,000 people globally (and over 1,000 Australians) we are at risk of becoming severely polarised. Only 19% of respondents said they would be willing to work alongside someone who strongly disagreed with them on a societal issue. Or just reading this another way, 81% of people don’t wish to be near colleagues who have different views on life, though those views are not relevant to the work being performed.

If this is true, we’re already polarised. In fact, we’re bigots – intolerant of a difference in belief or opinion. And no matter how worthy and right we think we are, no matter that we might think we’re ‘on the right side of history,’ if we cannot envisage working alongside a person who holds a contrasting view, then we’re bigots. In even more disturbing news from the same research, we may be in the 76% who would not help a person in need if they strongly disagreed with their societal views. What is happening to us?

One of the best things about work, is that it forces us to interact with all sorts of people who have opinions, lifestyles, habits, and preferences that may be outside the bubble we were raised in. And everyone was raised in some kind of bubble. As Walter Lippman once said, we are all captives of the picture in our head – our belief that the world we have experienced, is the world that really exists.

It is possible, when being forced to listen to those pesky creatures with contrasting views, that we might learn something. We might, in defending our views, be required to engage in some critical thinking. We might even change or modify our views. This is how we grow and in an ideal world, develop wisdom.

But this darkening cloud of righteous intolerance is not just happening at the individual level. In the UK, NatWest and Coutts banks have been in the news for closing the accounts of prominent customers, because they did not like their societal views. NatWest closed the account of a left wing academic, and Coutts closed the account of Nigel Farage. I’m a bit confused. Is it a banks’ business to send people to the naughty corner for their views? If so, they’re going to be closing quite a few accounts. (What’s their position on people who like Barry Manilow, I wonder?)

The banks might argue that this is due to pressures coming from a change in younger and historically marginalised employees. The Gartner study of 2019 suggests that 74% of employees want their organisations to take public positions on societal issues, even when they aren’t directly relevant. If this is the case, then I am now in a minority, because I really do not want my employer, ‘guiding’ my thinking on societal issues and getting stuck into virtue signalling. I have a contract for services with my employer – and that’s it.

There are wider risks if employers pander to our immaturity and intolerance. For one thing, innovation relies on people who think differently. Some of the most creative and brilliant minds, might not be the most compliant people on the planet. Health and safety, basic governance, and all manner of faults or problems, depend on people being free to speak up. When people who hold contrasting and unpopular views are sidelined or when the sanctimonious decide who is allowed in the team and who isn’t, then we’re just getting different shades of Groupthink, and different kinds of ‘in’ groups and boys’ clubs to the ones we thought we were trying to kill off. It’s the ending of Animal Farm, if you’ve read it, or has Orwell been cancelled? (Honestly, I can’t keep up).

We’re not required to like, love, or agree with the people we work with, but we are expected to work together with a degree of civility. Most of us find a mantra about life’s rich tapestry and just agreeing to disagree when our buttons are pushed. Another good policy is to keep contentious personal views out of work discussions.

Most of the funniest moments in my working life, occurred while I was with people who were completely different to me, and I wasn’t laughing at them. I was laughing with them. I hope the statistics are wrong – I really do. For starters, let’s bring back team building. I have an excellent song in mind for a conga line.