Today we welcome Vegan Publishers’ staff writer Nichole Kraft. Nichole talks about some common struggles many vegans experience in the workplace and gives us some tips on how to deal.
Creating a Kinder Office: Extending Our Compassion to the Workplace
Work is a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s a group of people coming together day after day, pursuing a common goal. (Even if you are self-employed, it’s likely you still collaborate to some extent with clients or other professionals to determine goals and milestones. No one really works in a vacuum.) But, for a group of people coming together day after day in pursuit of a common goal, there can be lot of division and negativity. Unless all your colleagues are fluffy kittens who are in perpetually good moods, you know that even good work situations could always be better.
Our workplaces can be very emotional environments. Not all personalities get along, not everyone holds the same code of ethics or values the same things. Combine a wide variety of personalities, values, and attitudes, and things are bound to get interesting. Add to that mix a curious facet about someone’s character or way of life—in our case, veganism—and it can feel like the whole professional world is an enemy.
As vegans, we’ve all experienced the looks of incredulity, the occasionally borderline-inappropriate questions, the “good natured” jokes, and even the thinly veiled disdain of our cohorts. All because we choose not to consume or wear animal products. For a choice that is seemingly so personal, vegans are often held up to public curiosity (and even scrutiny) in our professional lives. It’s easy to feel jaded, apathetic, or just plain angry. And it’s even easier to let those negative feelings seep through us and into our work. I’m sad to say that I’ve often justified my office griping and gossiping by telling myself that whoever I was griping or gossiping about deserved it. After all, they made me crazy by commenting (perhaps for the third time that week), “I just couldn’t live without meat.” I couldn’t help my feelings of indignation or how I vented them. Right?
We vegans know that a compassionate paradigm is what helps guide us. For many of us, compassion was our launching pad into this way of life. Compassion changed the way we conduct our personal lives. As I’ve grown personally over the past several years, I’ve come to understand that compassion is a minute-by-minute choice. It’s a decision we must consciously make, even when we’re in the midst of heated emotions. I realized that if I continued to treat compassion only as a feeling, I would not be compassionate in all circumstances—including work circumstances—because emotions are fickle. Just as we are often moved to compassion through our emotions (for example, feeling pity for a suffering animal or an abused child), we can often be moved to callousness through our feelings of irritation, anger, or frustration with our colleagues, employers, employees, or customers.
By taking responsibility and choosing compassion despite emotions to the contrary, we can spark transformation in our office cultures. The quality of our work experience improves as well as the experience of those around us. Here are three ways we can bring our vegan ethic of compassion to our professional lives:
- Don’t initiate negativity. I used to be one of the most critical people I knew. A series of personal revelations showed me what an unpleasant, judgmental person I was and I felt convicted to change. One method that helped immensely was an assignment I received through a lifestyle-based depression recovery program. The challenge is to refrain from saying anything negative about anything or anyone for fourteen consecutive days, in order to realign the way we deal with events and people around us (and if we stumble along the way, the challenge starts all over again). It felt pointless at first, but this challenge taught me two very important things. First, it revealed to me just how many hours I spent each day gossiping, criticizing, feeling sorry for myself, or complaining (both to others and myself), and how useless it all was. I wasn’t solving problems or soothing my emotions when I vented in a negative way—I was only contributing to a larger problem. Second, it demonstrated just how much better I could feel by leaving the negativity out of my conversation and self-talk. If I instead chose to view frustrating people and situations through a more positive or neutral lens, I could bring that much more positive energy to my work environment and feel less emotionally burdened. Now, instead of fuming when someone unwittingly irritates me by describing their latest hunting escapade or steakhouse experience, I can take responsibility for my reaction and stop my negativity before it starts. I can choose to treat someone else the way I’d want to be treated—with respect, patience, and compassion.
- Don’t become a receptacle for other people’s negativity. It’s all too easy to be someone else’s passive sounding board when they choose to backbite or complain about a third party. How can we be compassionate in that situation when we’re not even the ones doing the talking? Instead of simply keeping silent and indirectly encouraging the negativity, instill some compassion into the conversation. I have a friend who replies, “I still like the person you’re talking about.” A gentle, non-confrontational response like that may prevent a conversation from going down a destructive path and remind your fellow professionals that perhaps they need to address their concerns with the third party privately. Just think how many vegan myths could be put to rest if everyone who had an issue with veganism came to you, calmly and privately, to get your side of the story instead of perpetuating misconceptions through the rumor mill.
- Extend forgiveness readily. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I once let a coworker unknowingly take a fall for me so that I could avoid our supervisor’s reprimand. I rationalized my actions by thinking that since she’d been there longer, her job was more secure and she was more equipped to handle the reprimand than I was. I muffled my conscience and eventually left that place of employment to pursue other opportunities. Years later, my conscience spoke up again. And this time, I did something about it. I didn’t know any other way to get in touch with my former coworker except through social media. I looked her up and explained the situation through a private message. I asked her forgiveness and acknowledged that I’d wronged her. To my surprise, she promptly wrote back, saying, “No hard feelings. I don’t believe in holding grudges.” I was overwhelmed by her quick and gracious forgiveness. No demanding to know why I’d undermined her. No lectures on how unfair I’d been. No publicly humiliating me by pointing out my dishonesty to others on social media. She simply extended me compassion—even when I didn’t deserve it. Just like that coworker who sneers over your veggie dog at lunch may not deserve it. Forgive her anyway. You might never see it, but that compassion may well change her life.
I don’t know about you, but not everyone I work with is a fluffy kitten who is in a perpetually good mood. And let’s face it—sometimes we’re not fluffy kittens in perpetually good moods, either. Our work cultures may never be perfect, but we can make them better places by allowing ourselves to bestow and accept compassion, even when our emotions make the choice difficult or our actions don’t merit receiving it. Compassion in the workplace may not increase our margins or earn us promotions, but it produces something much more valuable: a kinder, gentler way of doing business.
Nichole Kraft is a passionate vegan and freelance copyeditor specializing in nonfiction that promotes positive change. She’s learning to choose compassion day by day. To learn more about Nichole, please visit her at www.paperweight-editing.com.