If you subscribe to spiritual or religious beliefs that teach kindness, fairness, compassion and grace, are there times when it’s OK to be mean?

Recently, a few friends told me they’d had painful, troubling and inappropriate interactions with work colleagues. In all cases, the colleagues had well-known reputations for being devout and deeply religious.

One friend described being dressed down by a coworker via telephone. She was only vaguely aware of the cause of the call, and the co-worker was so angry he cut off my friend every time she tried to speak. The gist, as she understood it, was he was afraid she might “poach” a client.

The co-worker screamed things like, “Are you completely stupid?” He was so loud, she had to turn down the volume on her phone. He called her an “idiot” and other names. Throughout the call, the co-worker swore and ended by hanging up abruptly.

The altercation brought up a swirl of emotions, like confusion and anger. She felt “attacked,” especially, she said, because her desk is in an open area with little privacy. She fought to keep from crying. She resisted the urge to leave her desk, lest other co-workers know how much the call upset her.

Another friend lamented his supervisor’s habit of belittling him in employee meetings and in private. She questions his integrity, skills and judgment. When he attempts to politely correct her, she tells him he’s “being sensitive” and can’t “take a joke.”

Because the supervisor has characterized him in this way, he’s become concerned about pushing back on the derogatory comments. It’s clear, he said, he can’t show any “vulnerability” at work. If he wants “respect,” he can’t talk about how certain things make him feel.

These sorts of things happen frequently for a variety of reasons. One cause is some of us compartmentalize our lives; we behave one way at work or public, another at home and yet another in our faith communities. We would never think of dressing down someone with whom we attend a church, but that’s not necessarily the case in other forums.

Sure, there are church bullies. However, I’m referring to those who openly practice their faith in a devout and sincere way but can nonetheless explain why they can’t afford to be nice at work. Or perhaps that person has clearly defined a set of rules that apply in a house of worship, but they consciously behave differently in their own house.

We don’t necessarily expect our spouses or kids will hold us accountable for being mean, rude or unfair. And when someone is unfair, untruthful or otherwise hurtful to us, it’s difficult to apply our personal beliefs in a well-crafted response.

In a faith community, many of us consciously strive to be on our best behavior. We try not to do things we know aren’t in keeping with our beliefs.

However, we don’t necessarily extend our worshipful behavior to our everyday lives —and some of us do so consciously. For example, do you ever tell yourself it’s not going to help you advance in your career if you show compassion to a co-worker or client? If so, have you considered why?

Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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