Uniforms in the workplace mean something. My VP’s new suit isn’t a fashion statement. It’s a symbol of Authority to Do Serious Business. Just as the uniforms of doctors or nurses symbolize their Healing Authority. Or those little white collars worn by chaplains symbolize their Spiritual Authority.
Lately I’ve been wondering what my office, the engineering environment of a large corporation, would be like if we had a chaplain. It’s a difficult proposition in an extremely diverse engineering environment. Prayers or blessings would be difficult to do without someone taking offense. So many fine folks from India and China and Israel and France and other parts of the world — what well-meaning religious words could span so many cultures?
It works in a hospital setting — look at all the wonderful things a hospital chaplain can do across cultures. And army chaplains manage in the religious diverse environments, too. Who would have expected a chaplain and an imam to be officiating together at an army celebration of the beginning of Advent and the end of Ramadan? But the Silicon Valley office has a force field, protecting the collegial diversity from religious intrusion.
We do find other ways to express the sentiments, without the uniform. For someone setting on a difficult task, the quipped secular blessing “May the Force be with You” works well. When a project team is up against serious challenges, I’ve heard variations on this one: “Anybody with divine connections, please make whatever offerings or prayers you can. We’re going to need all the help we can get!”
Yet for the serious stuff, when someone has been laid off, or is going out on medical leave to battle cancer, or heading out on family leave to be with a dying parent, we don’t have the words. “Take care” or “Let me know if I can do anything” or “We’ll miss you” just don’t cut it. In those cases, it would be nice to have a Spiritual Authority around, to help us say Important words of comfort and blessing with our departing colleagues.
Having a few more suits in the office, signs of Authority to Do Serious Business, is a good thing, especially if it correlates to profitability and growth, and layoffs become a distant memory. But I can’t help but wonder if a white collar or two wouldn’t be a good thing. Forgive the business blasphemy.