by Christopher Cudworth
A close and longtime friend pulled me aside the other day with a warning of sorts. “I love you man,” he told me. “But you’ve got to stop giving people reasons not to hire you.”
His advice is so well-intentioned. In the age of social media, your personal brand is how you sell yourself to others. Mine is all over the Internet. From LinkedIn to Twitter to Facebook, Google+ to all the blogs I write. My views are out there. So is my age. Plus I effectively rank all top 10 spots on Google for the name Christopher Cudworth.
But what people really worry about most when it comes to their personal reputation is their religious and/or political views being perceived as oppositional to all those who might want to do business with them.
I’m not afraid of that. And here’s why.
Nothing to fear
My years have taught me there’s nothing to fear. Not if you truly believe in God and trust that your faith will show you the way. There is no consequence on this earth that you cannot spiritually survive. Your words and actions and beliefs may indeed cost you social or work advantages.
But still, people warn you not to reveal too much about your age, your viewpoints or your religion.
The Internet is full of advice on how to hide your age, as if doing so were some kind of actual job qualification.
And surely there are plenty of people who will tell you to avoid saying anything political on business social media such as LinkedIn.
I am 57. I am a liberal. And a Christian. Or both.
Chicken to speak out?
Pretty much this brand of advice seems to be focused on connecting with people who make business choices based on religious or political views.
But it works both ways. Certainly the recent stories about Chick-Fil-A choosing to fund non-profit organizations aligned with its company views have impacted their reputation. Rightly or wrongly, consumers often choose to base their decisions on who to support based on liberal or conservative views. Then it came out that Chick-Fil-A even hires or chooses franchisees based on their core values. That seems like a pretty sound business principle. But again, they took flack for those practices because the social media flurry took off before the full breadth of the company’s policies was vetted.
There was some debate that went on about this issue on LinkedIn and I commented about that. Advisable or not, I expressed concern that some companies might use policies like that to be exclusionary in their hiring. But it’s a gray area. According to Snopes.com, this is what actually appears on the Chick-Fil-A website as to company culture: “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Fair enough. That’s a fairly conservative enough statement about hiring practices. I mean that in the best way. It’s not Conservative in the sense that it is outlining some political view as necessary to employment. It is conservative in the sense that it advocates fair and reasonable hiring practices. There are other forms of conservative viewpoints at work in business as well.
For example, I once knew a geologist who was a devout creationist. The thought of his worldview at work in that field was astounding to me. Creationists typically view the earth as having a very limited time span. I asked the man specifically for his opinion about that. “All I care about in the job is the layers. I just need to know where things are. How old they are does not matter to me.”
I thought about those words for a long time. He’d been through all that geological education and processed it in his own fashion. He was not a man afraid to speak his mind either. At some point he likely spoke up about his beliefs. Surely some of his science education professors shouted him down if he brought up his religious views and the opinion that the earth’s geology was all the product of the Great Flood. Or whatever. Yet he’d kept true to his anachronistic worldview despite all contentions to the contrary. And he was successful in his profession.
That’s a conservative, tried and true I suppose. He’d held his convictions and stuck to religious tradition despite all that liberal science stuff swirling around him.
In a similar way, I suppose, I have clung to my liberal views despite all the Conservative opinion dominating the business world. Am I, as a Liberal, the equivalent of a Creationist in the business world? Am I denying the science of economics and business. Are Harvard or Booth School MBAs gathering in coffee shops to snigger about my naive notions about business?
Well, I can only speak from personal experience in my business dealings, where my conservative instincts have always controlled my actions.
For example, when I was elected President of the Chamber of Commerce in Batavia, IL., my primary goal was to make the organization run more efficiently than it had been for years. I moved to cut the Board from 20 down to 11 members. Then I required that all events and activities of the Chamber have a budget. Surprisingly, that was a new policy to everyone. When it was all said and done, we’d also created all new marketing materials for the Chamber and provided a guarantee of a prescribed set of services to all members that helped increase the membership.
All those could be characterized as policies indicative of a Conservative mindset. Cutting staff or representation to a manageable size, reducing waste and increasing accountability and finishing with a financial cushion, all are in line with a conservative approach to business.
My personal liberalism primarily enters business when it comes to issues of fairness. Because I believe, like the conservative entity known as Chick-Fil-A, that it is not just important but a requirement “to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”
At one point during my career in marketing, the organization where I worked had built a reputation for sexual harassment. A few lawsuits had been filed and won against the company. One day while riding back from lunch with co-workers a young woman began relating to us that her boss had made multiple inquiries into what she wore under her work clothes, what type of relations she had with her boyfriend and other types of sexual innuendos. I took the step of networking through a friend in law who helped her find a lawyer to represent her interests with the company. She sued and won, then left the company.
Was that a conservative or liberal action on my part? It was both. In truth I was protecting the company’s interests while protecting the interests of the young woman subject to the harassment. I did not take matters into my own hands but providing assistance to legally assist the young woman find a recourse for her situation.
But the real issue for me was not just that young woman’s situation. The company maintained a culture of harassment in many other ways. The President made frequent statements that were designed to intimidate and offend for purposes of control. “Bring in the Design Fairies,” he once blurted while meeting with a group of creative directors. Comments like that were not complimentary to the staff, as if they were magically endowed with the ability to solve creative issues. Instead he regularly issued statements devaluing the talents of design staff, intimating that their sexuality had much to do with their station in life as lowly designers.
That rankled my liberal instincts on so many fronts it was tough to keep composure sometimes.
Even bosses trying to be the pillar of conservative values can blow it sometimes as well. One director at a media company issued a written statement titled The (Company) Way, The Truth and the Light. A number of employees raised concerns that he should be using a biblical construct in the context of company policy. There was enough rumbling among the ranks that as marketing manager I brought the concerns to light in a leadership meeting that week. The reception of this feedback was less than welcome, and when someone stapled a picture of Jesus to the company memo and sent it to the corporate headquarters, the director was determined that some heads should fall. He called me into his office accusing me of sending the memo. “No one can criticize my faith,” he blustered to me. “I go to church every week!”
Indeed he did. But it did not stop him from forcing me out of the company for bringing up the issue in the first place. My liberal instincts toward free dialog and problem-solving had gotten me into trouble once again.
When I accepted a job as editorial writer for a major newspaper it was with joy and expectation that we debated issues on a weekly basis. My fellow staff writers were long-experienced journalists with a highly objective bent earned from years of street and business reporting. We criticized each other’s work, which ultimately had to pass muster with the Publisher and Editors, a strong mix of leadership with both liberal and conservative views.
We also edited for space the writing of both conservative and liberal columnists including the likes of George Will and Ann Coulter. Tasks like that help you learn to appreciate the constructs of the arguments they make, and find ways to make sure their columns do not suffer for the editing.
So it has been with a critical eye that I have proceeded in my career while examining the conservative and liberal facets of society. We need both. But we need a balance.
That much I learned as a member of the highly conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. For 25 years our family attended services and I served on the Board, taught Sunday School and led activities for that church including 5 years in the Praise Band translating music into theology. At one point I led a search committee for a new praise leader and set some parameters for the committee at which some members bristled. “We’ll meet one hour, once a week,” I told them. “And we’ll get our business done.”
In 8 weeks we had vetted the criteria, interviewed candidates and made a selection from amongst 8 different praise musicians. And then we waited. And waited. It took the church another four months to approve the choice. The conservative opinion was that we’d actually proceeded too quickly in doing our business. “We need time to think,” I was told. And then the backroom meetings began. It was as if the entire search enterprise had to be done all over again. Finally the hiring of our candidate was accomplished. But the experience left a sour taste in the mouths of all on the committee including the Pastor Emeritus, a 60-year veteran of Missouri Synod pastoral duties who proclaimed, during one of the meetings, “This is the best committee on which I’ve ever served.” All were in agreement.
That success was undercut by a suspicious, highly conservative worldview that believed itself better able to do the job than the committee elected to perform its duties.
I’d run into that kind of logic before at the same church. We’d gone to the congregation twice already with budgets that were approved for construction of an addition using money donated by a wealthy member who died and left her fortune to the church. The church board was worried the congregation needed to hear the whole story again. I pounded my fist on the table and barked, “It’s already approved. We need to move forward.” The Pastor pulled me aside the next Sunday and thanked me for having the courage to speak up. We built the new addition and moved forward. It wasn’t a risk to do all that. We’d already done all the work necessary to guide and improve the plans.
So that raises an interesting question: Was I too liberal for wanting to move forward rather than remain stuck in our cycle of constant equivocation? I’m not afraid to take risks. I’m not afraid to propose creative ideas. I’m not afraid to pound my fist on the table and demand progress, productivity and accountability.
I do however respect and appreciate the need for review and consideration before action. That’s why I like the foreign and domestic policy of our current President, Barack Obama. He thinks about what he does before doing it. Our country has not embarked on any new ideological war games as a result. Supporting that kind of conservative, considerate approach makes me a liberal according to some. Some call it namby pamby wimpass liberal stuff. I call it intelligent reasoning and a moderate approach to international challenges. The forces we’re fighting in the Middle East have been there for 800 years or more. We’re not going to solve them overnight. That’s not conservative or liberal. Flailing around for quick solutions is just dumb. We’ve already tried that and look how Iraq turned out.
So it disturbs me that some people might sit out there in judgment of my political views as too liberal when in fact they are much more conservative in nature than liberal. I think the same way about the environment and conservation. Protecting the earth is a conservative, not a liberal thing to do.
I also think that way about matters of faith, where social justice and working to provide equal rights to all comes first. That worldview aligns precisely with the biblical truth of Jesus Christ. From what I’ve read––and I’ve read the Bible cover to cover several time over, studied it groups and read hundreds of books on the topic o faith–– my liberalism aligns with the core truths of all religions except where conservative ideology steps in to make rules about how to live and who to tolerate. That’s an ugly form of conservatism that has led to Nazi Germany, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the KKK. Not all conservatives are extreme of course. But it does makes me wonder why anyone is willing to call themselves conservative without first taking a close and studied look at what that means now and what it has meant in the past. Even the conservative wing of the Catholic Church has been repeatedly wrong about things, including the position of the earth in the solar system, for one notable mistake.
When you examine what so-called modern conservatism has wrought the last ten years it makes you wonder why anyone would be proud to call themselves conservative at all. Or perhaps they’re not really getting their point across to the people in power. The Bush administration ran amok with wars and de-regulating the economy, reducing taxes and pushing constrictive policies on American education. Conservatives seemed to say nothing about all that.
Yet when the economy tanked thanks to all that reckless behavior it was liberals who stepped in to mop up the mess and put things back in order. We’re not out of the woods by any measure. The economy could still tank. But that’s not a product of liberal policy. That’s a product of refusal to change or require accountability of organizations acting out of control in the financial world. That world is still run primarily by financial conservatives who bristle at governmental intrusion.
Holdouts and bailouts
What was the first response of banks and lending institutions following the economic crash? They refused to lend money even to successful businesses. That was not some liberal scheme. In fact some wondered if it was a conservative punishment doled out in response to the election of a supposedly liberal president.
That President bailed out the auto industry and put strict controls in place to restore and revitalize American auto companies. Those were highly disciplined, conservative measures to require accountability.
So I simply don’t buy the idea that it is my responsibility to apologize for my liberal background and beliefs. I also don’t buy that I’m too old at 57 years of age to be a contributing member of society or a business leader. Most of our Presidents and business leaders don’t become CEOs or leading politicians until their 50s and 60s.
Yet we’re told all the time that we have to hide our age on our resumes lest a company be discouraged from hiring us. I say bullshit. It’s not my problem that my experience and my creativity are at an all-time peak. Some companies don’t want to hire people like me because they think people my age too expensive compared to hiring some younger candidate. I’m all for that too, if it fits the bill. But from an employee’s perspective you can’t buy experience or learn how to effectively apply creativity to creating business solutions. That comes with time.
And do we actually think we can hide our age in this day and age? Do we think hiring managers and HR directors are so stupid they can’t do a simple Google search and find out when you graduated from college? Give. Me. A. Break.
So-called “Age-Proofing” your resume is a game no one should play. The companies and hiring managers that use age as a determining factor in hiring are literally breaking the law. Do you want to work for a company that willingly breaks the law as a matter of its business practices? That’s the question and the challenge we should be putting to all businesses. Why do you think its okay to carry on with those practices when they are against the law?
3C Creative Content
So I’m running my own little business now and it’s going okay especially because I’m able to purchase reasonably priced health insurance thanks to Obamacare. I’m even improving my policy some now that the company is moving forward. I wanted to do this years ago but couldn’t because my wife had ovarian cancer and we could not buy insurance on our own because her pre-existing condition precluded us from doing so. Obamacare changed all that. For now.
Because we hear all kinds of conservative politicians threatening to “roll back Obamacare” if the Senate goes Red. But do they know what they’re really talking about? I don’t think so. The liberal convictions of that law are providing safety and security in health care to millions of people. Society has not collapsed since the law was installed. In fact millions of Americans including small business owners like me––and I employ my 24-year-old daughter as well––can now get health insurance and run their business without worrying that they can’t get insured.
To me that sounds a lot like the American Dream and the American Way. Which is liberal. Defined as:
- broad-minded: tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others
- progressive politically or socially: favoring gradual reform, especially political reforms that extend democracy, distribute wealth more evenly, and protect the personal freedom of the individual
- generous: freely giving money, time, or some other asset
Yet we hear advice all the time, “Don’t be too political” or “Don’t discuss religion” online or in public because people won’t hire you if you express your opinions. I say that’s an insidious form of new censorship. It’s not why I’m alive. Or you. Or anyone. This is America. Expressing opinions is healthy even if they’re wrong. That’s the only way you learn.
Do you want an employee who just sits there in company meetings and refuses to contribute because they’re afraid something they say might appear stupid or be wrong? That doesn’t help anyone. And do you want an employee who kisses your ass simply to get ahead or do you want an associate who can challenge you to better things, better ideas and better profitability? All those are liberal, not conservative instincts. And they make better employees.
So you can lecture me all you want about how liberals like me don’t fit into the business world. You can tell me I’m told old (though I can likely kick your ass on the bike and in a race…can you do a 12:00 two mile?) or getting slow or “too set in our ways.
What a load of fucking crap. Never in the history of the human race has there been a generation of people more willing to experiment and redefine themselves, learn new technology and adapt to circumstances. That extends from the youngest kids in the workforce to the oldest. Everyone’s learning. The only ones unwilling to learn and change are those too conservative to try. That’s why I’m a liberal too.
I believe that Jesus loved people like me for the willingness to take on injustice in the workplace, to respect the time of others and to make decisions with a conscience clear of political ramifications and conniving conservatism. Jesus hated all that rot and told the Pharisees to go choke on it.
They hung him on a cross to try to shut him up. But somehow things didn’t work out that way. His liberal, radical message of spiritual creativity lives on to this day. It is ours to keep it alive in the face of those who think rules and power and control and money are more important than knowing love, and loving life. That includes loving what you do in the workplace.
I’ve written a book about the process of loving life, and living it well in the face of considerable obstacles. It’s called The Right Kind of Pride. It focuses on what it’s like to get through cancer as patient and caregiver. But it’s about much more than that. It’s about the balance of conservative and liberal instincts that make it possible to thrive.
I’m always going to be proud to be a liberal. Life has not made me more cynical or apt to hew conservatively as if being cranky and controlling is the sign of a more realistic outlook.
If being more open-minded yet practically focused exclude me from doing the job for you, then it’s your loss. I know for a fact that I can do a great job on anything I set out to do. I’m confident of that, and I’ve proven it, and no amount of supposed discouragement can keep me from moving ahead.