Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Beliefs vs Ideas

The tricky thing with beliefs is that they are strongly-held and utterly right in the mind of their owner. Whether you agree or not, you have to consider them- but do you necessarily have to respect them?

The appointment of Paolo Di Canio to the head coach post at Sunderland football club has created ripples from board level to the fan base. This controversial appointment has been met with an outcry that goes beyond any of the usual objections due to Di Canio's self-professed belief in fascism and the fact he gave fascist 'Nazi' salutes from the pitch during his time at Italian club Lazio. 

The Press have demanded clarification- are we welcoming a fascist- and by default, a racist- into the heart of English football at a time when we are campaigning to 'Kick Racism Out' of the sport? Will it affect the image of the club? Di Canio himself has rejected accusations of racism and remained tight-lipped, possibly hoping the storm will pass and we'll forget his politics and let him get on with his job. Perhaps he just doesn't feel its an issue in a country where the sum total of fascist activity seems to be sporadic EDL 'rallies' of roughly a dozen grumpy-looking blokes in sportswear.

When we work with others, we have to accept that we won't see eye to eye on some matters. How do we handle things when we fundamentally disagree? As has been argued in Di Canio's case, should some beliefs preclude a person from holding a certain post? Could the vegetarian work in an abattoir? Could the Labour voter work for the Tory MP? And should they, even if they keep 'mum' and do a good job? It's simple enough to rule out certain candidates when a post is considered 'politically sensitive' or 'apolitical' (though it amazes and amuses me how often 'apolitical' organisations turn out to be anything but.) But often these things are far from simple, and we find ourselves working with people and in businesses whose values and beliefs seem far removed from our own.

So when are beliefs really unreasonable and when should they be challenged?

When they upset others? Or when they upset us? Or cause offence?

Who are you to make the call?

Should the ideal workplace- purpose allowing- be a mixture of flavours, with everyone keeping their beliefs to themselves? Or should people be open and allow their beliefs (and by default their personal values) to create debate and influence their work, their actions and their relationships? Or should we seek out only those who are sympathetic to our own leanings so we gain alignment and agreement wherever possible? 

Where do we draw the line? Is fascism (which is a political belief system just as much as capitalism is) beyond the pale? If they keep it to themselves and it doesn't affect their work, need we ask, or ever know?

Religious belief can be a minefield, as we know- but too often we forget that talking openly about faith and with understanding and respect can defuse many of the explosive situations we could be faced with at work. There are some posts that a person of a particular faith could never hold- to be absurdist, we're never likely to see a Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. There are some workplaces where an atheist just wouldn't be happy to set aside their beliefs, or where a Hindu would be able to connect with the Christian values of the organisation. We have to be realistic and accept that not every workplace is right for every person if they have strong beliefs that are at odds with things. It doesn't mean we are acting unfairly- just recognising the uncompromising position reality sometimes adopts to confound our attempts to 'do the right thing'. We are not challenging their beliefs, but respecting them.

Currently in the news we have the tragic story of the Derbyshire parents who set fire to their home in an attempt to frame the husband's ex-girlfriend and have the children he fathered with her returned to them. Six of their own children aged 13 to 5 died in the fire. The parents' conviction for the manslaughter of the children has been reported with a truly appalling front page on today's Daily Mail which somehow lays the blame for one man's actions at the feet of the welfare state. The awful thing is, the comments section seems to be littered with people who agree- that one man's decision to put his children's lives in danger somehow came about purely because he was workless. Clearly, some people believe that all those on benefits are feckless, workshy- and damned dangerous. Unlike that particular bottom half of the Internet, I choose to believe we make our own decisions whether we act badly or not, and that nobody, regardless of their social position is immune from terrible acts of violence or destruction.

For the final word on belief, I reckon Chris Rock's character Rufus had it about as right as it's ever going to get as he argues the issue with Linda Fiorentino (Bethany) in 'Dogma'

Bethany: You’re saying having beliefs is a bad thing?
Rufus: I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea, changing a belief is trickier.


  1. Nothing more to add. Great impetus to get me to finish my article on Religion and Reason.

  2. I'm in the odd position of defending Di Canio - it's a very similar situation to the case of Redfern (the "BNP bus driver"). Mr Redfern apparently didn't broadcast his political views at work and there was no problem with him working with people from an Asian background (who formed the majority of his clients) - if I remember correctly he was praised by them for his courteous attitude. It was only when he became a BNP candidate in the Council elections that his views became an issue. Paolo di Canio is employed as a football manager; there don't appear to be any problems with him managing players from different backgrounds; and he doesn't use his job as a platform for his political views (which though unpleasant are not illegal).
    It's not an employer's job to act as "Thought Police" - it's only when an employee's views cause damage to them that they need to take any notice.

  3. Excellent points Simon, and what I had hoped would be elicited. Employers are not there to tell people how to think. I despise fascism but if Di Canio does his job at Sunderland and his belief doesn't cloud his judgment, who are we to object? We're not directly paying for him to be there. Sunderland fan however may have more reason to make a noise!