They’re policing speech at my job. Do I shut up? Or scream?
And other questions for Persuasion's advice columnist
They’re policing speech at my job. Do I shut up? Or scream? My workplace has established a board to decide which terms are acceptable. It started with “whitelist/blacklist” becoming “allowlist/denylist,” but is growing in scope in a classic example of a purity spiral. Now they’re questioning “grandfathered in” and “mute” and more. I’ve been told to “integrate with the culture of inclusion,” and am getting serious vibes of “1984” Newspeak. How do I fight this?
The title of this column is “Sane Advice for an Insane World,” which puts us in a tricky position. On one hand, sanity requires we at least acknowledge that your company’s attempts to police “offensive” language are… well, let’s say, overzealous. (“Mute” is problematic now? Since when? Has anyone told Zoom?)
Unfortunately, sanity also requires that I discourage you from embarking on a one-man anti-wokeness crusade the most likely result of which is that you end up fired for cause in the midst of a pandemic.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean you can never push back against illiberal excesses at your workplace. Before imposing a new policy on employees, any company should be able to both explain why they’re adopting it and show solid data proving that the program is effective—and if they don’t offer this, you (or even better, an organized group of workers) should politely demand it. But in cases like yours, where your company has already gone all-in on trendy diversity initiatives, and the culture has shifted to the point where you’re being pressured to get with the program, the window of opportunity to push back against this stuff has closed. The most practical thing to do is either a) grit your teeth and go along with it, or b) find another job.
Annoying, I know. But it’s probably not the first annoying thing you’ve had to do for the sake of remaining employed, and you’ll have other, better chances to make a difference if you let this go. Save your energy for an issue and milieu where you have a better chance of making a difference.
Need advice? Send your questions to Kat Rosenfield at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will, of course, preserve your anonymity.
How do I remain informed without feeling that the world is coming to an end? My friends and I are all suffering from panic attacks that wake us in the night, while our daytime anxiety constantly distracts us from work and other tasks. Even as I type this, my heart is heavy and I fear the future. I do not want my ability to care about the world, to have faith in our country, and to make love and friendship with all kinds of people, dependent on election results and political battles. I am also aware that bad actors in the media have me where they want me: angry and frightened, and addicted to the clicks. Honestly, I cannot take it anymore—yet I do not want to just ignore what’s happening. How does one find hope and serenity in the midst of all this?
You can start by cutting yourself some slack. This is a uniquely terrible moment, for all kinds of reasons. The coronavirus pandemic, the election, the wildfires, followed by hurricanes, followed by a second wave of coronavirus. And amid all of this, you’re bombarded with competing messages: get enough exercise; practice good sleep hygiene; take time offline for self-care—but also feel deeply ashamed and make profuse apologies for your privilege every time you manage to go five minutes without thinking about the news. This is a lot! Too much, even.
The thing is, you’re right. The entire terrible ecosystem of both traditional and social media benefits from making you miserable, terrified, and unable to log off for fear of missing out on the next stupid news cycle, which they have convinced you it is your moral duty to participate in. Do you know what “informed and engaged” is? It’s the sneaky manipulative language that a service like Twitter uses to make you think that doomscrolling all day with your eyes glued to a tiny screen makes you a better person.
And the way to combat that—to find that serenity you’re looking for—is to let go of that lie. Staying “engaged” is meaningless. It doesn’t make you better; it doesn’t change the world. The news happens the same way whether or not you’re watching it in real time, and the truly important stories will find you even if you don’t watch at all. The only thing you miss by tuning out is an endless series of outrage cycles and the butt-clenching anxiety of waiting for the next one. Wouldn’t you rather be outside?