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The Divided States: Politics in the Practice

February 5, 2021
Lisa Newburger, LISW-S
Lisa Newburger, LISW-S

Lisa Newburger, a master's level social worker supervisor, helps audiences find humor in talking about tough topics. Her "in-your-face" style of presentations and writing will make you smile or just shock you into taking some action. Either way, she is very effective at empowering others to reach their goals and feel better about themselves. Her entertaining workshops are available for national and international audiences. Writing for the dental industry since 2010, she uses an alterego (Diana Directive) to illustrate her points in a sarcastic but effective way. Presentations can be scheduled by contacting Lisa at www.discussdirectives.com/dental.html.

Handling political differences with colleagues can be difficult, but is made easier when starting from a place of compassion and empathy.

Politics in the workplace can be tough. What do you do when you and a co-worker have vastly different beliefs about the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election? Can you just ignoring what is going on in the news and keep your nose to the grindstone? It would be irresponsible of me to ignore current events and not address the elephant in the room. After all, how we deal with colleagues is critical to a successful, peaceful workplace.

Problems do not magically get better by ignoring them. We have serious problems in this country. It’s easy to have conversations with patients and colleagues that express our frustrations or share our opinions. But the question is: How do we deal with differing beliefs without jeopardizing our working relationships?

The US has been walking on eggshells. We made Washington, D.C. into a fortress for the inauguration—with over 20,000 members of the National Guard protecting the city. Our state capitals were on alert for armed protests from January 17-20. Half of our country voted for one candidate over another—which is why it’s difficult to find common ground.

So many people are angry and scared—they feel wronged or lied to. On January 6th we watched as the Capitol was overrun with rioters. It looked like a scene from a movie or something that happens in distant countries. But no…it happened here in the United States. Five people died and many were injured. Congressional leaders and staff barely escaped harm. The Vice President and his family had a close call with those looking at him as a traitor. Capital police were outnumbered. We are in shock. Our sense of safety got eroded. We are now a powder keg that can be lit in an instant.

Yet, after the attack, many legislators still voted against ratifying the election declaring that then-President-elect Joe Biden won. How did this become reminiscent of Germany? Our country is flooded with disinformation and propaganda that paint the “other side” as our enemies to be despised at all costs. There was an armed insurrection at the US Capitol, and the lid was torn off Pandora’s Box.

It is appalling to compare the difference of how a mostly white, violent mob was treated at the Capitol riot on January 6th vs. Black Lives Matter protestors last summer. Perhaps no image better incapsulated the stark differences in how the crowds were treated than a video of a cop taking a selfie with a rioter. Where BLM protestors were assaulted and arrested, that did not happen at the Capitol. How is that not obvious to everyone? We are a very racist country. These past 4 years have truly shown institutions and people’s true colors.

It is ridiculously hard to work with people who hate me because I am Jewish or because I am a woman. Society has given permission for them to verbalize their hatred, and I am sick of it. Enough is enough already. When will it end? Rodney King was so right when he said, “Can’t we all get along?” in 1992. What a powerful question. Why does it feel like we have not made any progress since then?

With so much tension, it’s important to talk about communication and how we treat each other.

So, what does this have to do with working in a dental office? Well, for 1 thing, it’s hard to ignore politics in such a climate, no matter what news sources you consume.

But the office must be a neutral zone. Work is not the place to talk about politics right now. It could destroy the relationships you have with your colleagues. As much as I love diversity of ideas, now is not the time for it in the workplace. It can and will destroy relationships and make it into a hostile work environment.

You may disagree with me and believe that this is a freedom of speech issue. It’s actually a customer service issue. Believe it or not, patients can pick up on hostilities and tension between colleagues. Consider, too, that patients may disagree with your point-of-view and feel uncomfortable coming back to the practice for appointments.

Do you think that you can stop how you feel after an intense debate on current events when your patient gets into the chair? You cannot. Do not unleash this and then wonder what happened. It will not benefit your team in any way shape or form to discuss politics right now. Shelve it. Do not destroy your workplace.

I am not discouraging you from believing whatever you believe or having conversations with your loved ones outside of work. I am just encouraging you to make your office a politics-free zone.

Now is the time for compassion. Maybe the adage to not talk about religion, politics, and sex is truly wise. Those topics draw such passion from people. Perhaps, we need to put the passion aside and figure out how to see and treat each other as humans.

Share with me your thoughts on this at diana2@discussdirectives.com . And, if you do not agree with me, let me know why. Stay positive and test negative.