If you notice a coworker with slightly altered eating habits this week, it may be because they are celebrating Passover.
Members of the Jewish faith, and even some Christians, are celebrating the historical Exodus of the Jews from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Remembering the suffering of their ancestors and rejoicing over their deliverance, as the Jewish people were led by Moses to the Promised Land, families around the world are following the rich traditions of their faith which include a Seder meal and reverent sessions of honor and worship.
So, back to that coworker. Why is he brownbaggin’ it instead of having wings with you? Why is he skipping the morning bagels and opting for only fruit?
Well… I think there’s a saying about religion and politics, isn’t there? Oh yeah…they have no place at work! If you are having some trouble with this concept, check out the following three ways to keep your workplace PC for Passover (and any other religious observance). Trust me, you will thank me later.
1. Change the Subject, Now.
So, what’s a girl to do if she accidentally brings up this taboo topic at the watercooler? Well, you certainly don’t have to feel guilty and flustered. It happens naturally in conversations outside of work, so a bit of curiosity about your cubicle-mate may slip out from time to time. But you could and should avoid making the situation more uncomfortable and awkward for others, by politely changing the subject and providing a graceful end to the conversation. Some folks may be thrilled that you have taken an interest, some folks may not. Thankfully, this isn’t a decision that you have to make, because you aren’t going to bring it up in the first place.
2. Respond instead of Reacting.
Definitely don’t criticize, question or engage in a debate about religion. I observed this very situation take place in my workplace once. A few friends were chatting about the upcoming lunch hour which was normally spent together at a local diner. One employee quietly indicated she would not be joining the team on that particular day because she had brought her lunch. Puzzled by her change in routine, another employee asked why she brought her lunch. The first employee stated the she needed to bring food because the local lunch spot didn’t offer choices appropriate for Passover. Okay… straightforward enough. And, in my opinion, the conversation should have ended peacefully and respectfully, right there. I anticipated a response of understanding (“Oh, okay, I’ll see you when we get back) or even acceptance, since the two ladies worked closely together and seemed to enjoy one another’s company.
“I understand. Why don’t we order in and all eat together? I can’t wait to hear what you thought about last night’s Idol pick!”
Instead, I found myself groaning inwardly as the response came. I heard this woman, in a very matter of fact manner, discuss why dietary restrictions for religious observance were so silly to her. I cringed as what ensued was a full blown, passionate debate about the relevance of fasting, futility of faithfulness and even defamation of organized religion around the world.
The offending, self-proclaimed woman-of-no-faith seemed to enjoy the conversation and be energized by the disagreement. Meanwhile the woman of faith proudly walked to lunch and seemed no worse for the wear, at least on the outside. But what of the wreckage? At least ten coworkers were within range if the conversation and several were visibly upset. Hey Debate Club… It’s wrong. It’s highly unprofessional. Cut it out!
3. When in Doubt, Just Don’t.
I get that we can never remove every personal aspect out of our lives at work. In fact, some folks swear that to maintain a good balance between work and life, you’ve got to feel like your coworkers know and respect you as a person, as well as a professional. I have been friendly and open at work and I have been a no nonsense, let’s- get-down-to-brass-tacks kind of gal. Both strategies have significant challenges. But, I’ll take professional over personal ANY day of the week.
In my experience, any comments about one’s personal life can be misconstrued and taken out of context later down the line. Its really impossible to protect oneself from all the possible repercussions of ingrained prejudice or subconscious, subtle judgements made on a daily basis in our offices, our homes-away-from-home. This is exactly why we have laws to protect employees from being put in this situation. I wonder what the woman I described above would do if she was to find that her faithful Jewish coworker had been promoted to a management position over her.
So, if you see a coworker observing this week by eating unleavened foods, just say Happy Passover. Or, on second thought, just keep your mouth shut. It’s none of your business anyway. Remember that you don’t have to share (your personal business) to care (about your job, coworkers, team, fill in the blank.)