So yesterday, one of my well-meaning online friends sent me a private message on Facebook that included this bit of warning/worry:
You have a first rate mind .. I’m a little concerned, however about the the posts you make as they might limit your project/career options. You’re in the buckle of the bible belt and political sensibilities are hard to gauge.
This friend was referring to some of the political content and opinions I share on by personal Facebook account.
You may or may not have noticed that this blog remains for the most part apolitical. I keep it focused on business topics, and more specifically those which relate to brand management, marketing, communications, social media and overall leadership. I prefer not to discuss my political beliefs here for two principal reasons:
1. This is not a political blog. It’s a business and marketing blog. If I wanted a political platform, I would launch a blog with a political focus.
2. Politics aren’t particularly relevant to the topics discussed here anyway.
If you have ever worked with me, you know that my politics have absolutely no impact whatsoever on my professional life. If we work on a project together, I don’t care if you’re a liberal or a conservative, if your believe climate change is real or think it’s a hoax, if you think that President Obama is a decent man or a secret Muslim antichrist. I am probably too busy helping your business get out of the ditch to notice or care who you plan to vote for next November, and I certainly won’t be the one to ask. Your politics and religion are entirely your business. If you bring them up, fine. I won’t.
Having said that, I am not an apolitical creature. I have opinions and beliefs, like everyone else, and right now, I feel free to express them on Facebook and engage in political discussions with my friends, and sometimes complete strangers.
The way it works for me is simple:
While I am my own boss, I have no reason not to express my views on Facebook. If anything I post today somehow offends someone’s political or religious sensibilities, there will be no impact on anyone’s business but my own. There will be no backlash, no boycott, no drama on HuffPo or The Blaze, and no awkward conversation with my boss, Legal and HR on Friday afternoon.
Conversely, if I ever decide to leave free-agency behind and take a position somewhere, I won’t feel as free to post or share certain things on Facebook anymore. Employment changes things. It reframes the kinds of discussions you can have online. Right or wrong isn’t relevant. That’s just how the ball rolls: you don’t want to become a liability for your employer. Ever. If self-preservation isn’t enough of a motivator, then professional responsibility sure as hell should be.
But something bothers me about that piece of advice up there. It implies that I should hide who I am or what I believe in order to be employable in the first place. As if being of one political persuasion would somehow make me more attractive to employers and clients than being of the other kind.
That really, really, really bothers me, and it doesn’t bother me because it’s bullshit; it bothers me because it’s true: declaring yourself a democrat in certain parts of the US can cost you a promotion, a raise or your job. Recruiters might decide to put your resume in the dump pile on political conviction alone. A lot of liberals I know in SC are afraid to “be found out” by their peers and bosses because their jobs could be at risk, so they pretend to be conservatives and just go with the flow. I know it sounds absurd, but then again, some people think that President Obama is a secret Kenyan agent working for the Muslim Brotherhood, so our frame of reference here might be a little shaky. This isn’t about logic. It’s about the reality of blind prejudice.
So yes, friend whom I will not name, the concern you expressed on Facebook is valid. Sad and depressing, but valid. And I appreciate your sharing it with me. But I’ve given this a little thought, and…
1. If you have to hide who you are in order to keep your job, you need to change jobs.
2, If you have to hide who you are in order to keep your clients, you need to get some new clients.
3. If your company is a cesspool of discrimination and everyone is too afraid to do anything about it, things will never change. Either accept it and strap-in, or go look for a better company to work for.
Now let me share how I deal with the fear of being black-listed for my political views, starting with what some “businesses” might find objectionable about my political views. Just this one time, let me share with you my deepest, darkest political secrets:
I like President Obama. He isn’t perfect, but I like him. I like Bill and Hillary Clinton too. That isn’t a crime, nor should it be. I don’t believe that women should be treated as second-class citizen (in and out of the corporate world), make less money than their male counterparts, or be called “sluts” when they admit to using birth control. I want gay couples to enjoy the same constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms that straight couples enjoy. I don’t believe that someone is “more American” if they are of Christian and Anglo-Saxon but somehow “less American” if they are Muslim, dark-skinned, atheist or vote Democrat. I actually like that the government defends our borders, protects our forests, our water and our air, and makes sure that our kids’ toys aren’t covered in lead paint or made out of carcinogenic materials. The government does wonderful things that the private sector either cannot or will not do alone, and contrary to Tea-Party anti-government mythology, it does most of them quite well.
People who hate the government so much that they want to do away with it are basically dumbfucks. They probably need to go live in Somalia for six months and see how they like the freedom of anarchy. Then we’ll talk about how evil and “too big” the US government is. Also, I’m a Christian, if that matters. I only tell you this because even though I fall into that particular Abrahamic faith category, I don’t believe that it gives me license to be a faith tyrant. For instance, insisting that creationism be taught in public school might seem like a great idea if you care more about forcing your faith on everyone than actually respecting the US Constitution. But the real problem with it is that it doesn’t exactly prepare our youth to be globally competitive. What it teaches them is to distrust science, knowledge and facts (things that would help them cure cancer, build bridges, design tomorrow’s cars, etc.). Meanwhile, the kids who will be hired for the jobs your kids won’t be qualified for are learning real science, real history, real anthropology and philosophy and literature. Speaking of science and facts, climate change is real. (Just like gravity, aspirin, glacier erosion and Obama’s birth certificate.) Get over it. It isn’t a question of opinions. Believing that there are space aliens out there is an opinion. Accepting the reality of basic science is called being a rational, responsible adult.
By the way, as someone who grew up with universal healthcare and still runs into it regularly, I can tell you from extensive personal experience that it isn’t death panels or the end of freedom; it’s just poor kids not dying of cancer in the gutter. It’s expectant mothers receiving proper prenatal care. It’s your mom not being turned down for treatment because of a bogus pre-existing condition. It’s people living longer, healthier lives and requiring less expensive care over time. Yes, Russia and North Korea probably do it wrong. But France, Canada and other countries do it mostly right. Look into it before parroting absurd nonsense you heard on AM radio.
Social Security isn’t a frivolous expense either; it’s a promise we made to retired people that guarantees that they will not have to choose between heating their houses in the winter and being able to buy food. Yes, it’s expensive to help your fellow Americans. Of course it is. But if you think that a better alternative is to let them starve and die, then you need to ask yourself what kind of person you really are. If money is really a big concern for you, then stop supporting nation-building in the Middle-East and start supporting nation-building right here at home. That isn’t socialism, by the way. It’s just called investing in your own country. Kind of like having a strong military, and fast trains, and good roads and drinkable water. It might even be called building a really cool model that will make you the envy of the world and make other countries want to invest in you again.
Welfare and food stamps are not dirty words, by the way. Go hang out with poor Americans for a few months and see if they’re really just the lazy parasites you keep hearing about. They aren’t. They want jobs. Desperately. You know, it’s really easy to dehumanize people. All you have to do is put labels on them and use stereotypes. It’s what the Nazis did with the Jews, and what the KKK did with African-Americans. It’s also what old white men in corner offices do to women, and what homophobic preachers do to same-sex couples. One thing I’ve learned in my years is that real patriots don’t turn their backs on their fellow citizen. They don’t preach hate or division. They do everything they can to help them. Always let that be your litmus test. Cynicism isn’t a virtue. Compassion is. Try it.
Since we’re on the subject, let me close with this: the political hate machine in the US has become appalling. We can talk about how people like Rush Limbaugh Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann are irresponsible, batshit sideshows of pre-packaged angst and faux paranoia, but they have vast audiences of people who think they are brilliant and spot-on and should be President. When I hear people repeat their rhetoric as if it were gospel, (and I do, a lot,) my spider senses flash passages of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale at me, and it worries me. It really does.
If all of that makes me a liberal, fine. Label me what you want. None of my beliefs stem from a particular political or religious philosophy or agenda, mind you. I have traveled around the world, served in the military, lived on two continents, and worked with people all over the globe. I make up my own mind on what is true and what is false, what is ethical and what isn’t, on what hurts people and what improves their lives. In the US, I happen to fall on the liberal side of the aisle. In France, I easily fall on the conservative side of the aisle. But I’m not the one doing the moving. It’s just that we’re talking about very different lines. So what am I in the end? A liberal? A conservative? Depends who you ask. For some people, I will never be conservative enough. For others, I will never be liberal enough. And for some, I will never be American enough, French enough, white enough or Christian enough. But remove political labels and stereotypes, and you’ll find that I am simply someone who won’t stand for racism, sexism, willful ignorance of the facts, xenophobia, fraudulent behavior, exploitation, irresponsible business practices, hypocrisy and fear-mongering.
If that world view somehow offends a particular business, then let me tell you quite candidly that I have no problem if that business decides not to hire me. In fact, if evidence of my political leanings weeds out businesses that would rather not work with “someone like me,” that’s great. I just did myself a huge favor. It isn’t that I don’t want to work with conservatives or republicans. In fact, I love working with and for conservatives and republicans as much as I love working with and for liberals and democrats. It’s just that I don’t particularly enjoy working with and for small-minded haters.
“But Olivier, aren’t you afraid that admitting all this will hurt your business?”
Not on your life. Here’s why:
1. I am not sitting here all day trying to broaden my options. What I am trying to do is narrow them down as much as possible. The reality of my business model is that I can only work with maybe 100-200 more companies before I retire or move on to a completely different phase in my career. I want every one of those partnerships to count. I don’t have time for the kind of bullshit that invariably comes with working for companies managed by irrational, hateful pricks. That means that I have to sort through tens of thousands of businesses to get to the right ones. Businesses deselecting themselves over something this stupid helps me out. And if I were to decide to go back into the corporate workforce, I am looking at 2-5 employers before the time comes for me to leave again and go do something else. Believe me when I tell you that I have no intention of wasting my time even interviewing with mildly racist or sexist bullies, let alone wasting a few years working in a poisonous corporate environment that idolizes people like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.
2. This particular crowd only makes up about 20% of the US population. I’ll do okay with the other 80.
3. The kind of business I want to work with doesn’t give a shit whether I am Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, liberal or conservative. It’s focused on people. More specifically, on improving people’s lives. I don’t care if that comes in the form of designing awesome cars or making killer 3D flat screen TVs or tasty coffee or better artificial organs or portable water filters. It just has to have that people focus, both internally and externally, and it cannot have it if it sort of hates African-Americans, gays, women, Muslims, the French, poor people and whatever other “minority” happens to get on Rush Limbaugh’s radar. I run into enough of that just going to my mailbox as it is. I don’t want it to poison my work life with it too.
So yes, letting my Facebook friends know what I stand for politically lets those opinions radiate outward. And yes, that probably limits my employment options in the deep South and some parts of the mid-west. But maybe that’s kind of the point. I work nationally and internationally. I don’t need to work for companies in the Bible Belt if they don’t want me. And for every company that won’t hire me because I don’t fall over myself to love on Mitt Romney’s charming indecision on every issue, or because I don’t get behind the next BBQ overdose-induced boycott of France, there are 10 who will hire me for what I can do for them. And they tend to be in cool places like San Francisco, Montreal, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Sydney and Dubai. Know what I mean? It’s a big world and it’s full of businesses looking for expertise that not a lot of guys actually have.
So thanks kindly for your concern. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
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