Humanist Responses to religious language

 File this under, questions I get asked a lot. For non-religious, but well meaning people like Humanists, the question is, how to respond to well meaning religious people who say religious things that don't make sense to an atheist.


In this case, the question is, how to respond when someone says, "I'll pray for you." 

First - let me refer you to a post from 2014 - where I address the problem of "forced" prayer. https://sumogirl.com/sumowp/advice-group-prayer/ 

And this - also from 2014 - http://humanisthappiness.blogspot.com/2014/11/my-heart-is-with-you.html

This one from 2009 - http://humanisthappiness.blogspot.com/2009/08/ill-pray-for-you.html

And this from 2017 - http://humanisthappiness.blogspot.com/2017/07/what-to-say-to-parents-of-sick-children.html

As I said, this comes up. A lot. It's an ongoing problem.  

Now for the question I was asked. And yes, I do accept questions you want me to answer and give you feedback on. Just be aware, it will be turned into a blog post though I will change names to protect the innocent when I do so.

Question:

I would love it if you would address this concern in your messages sometime...

I am surrounded by friends who are quite religious, who pray a lot and study their Bibles a lot. They talk about it quite a bit and I am not pushy about my beliefs... no problem. BUT when someone sends a text to the group about an illness in the family (for example) my friends start texting comments like: "I'll keep you in my prayers." And when they get better some of them take credit for the healing. BUT my question - I need a response that sounds caring but isn't a lie. I can't honestly say I'll pray for them since I don't believe it does a bit of good. However, I think knowing friends are praying for you is comforting in itself. Any way... if you can give ideas of a humanist way to respond to such texts, or in person, I'd be grateful.

If there's a class that you have that addresses this question, let me know and I'll take it! I am on your mailing list and enjoy reading your posts. B. R. - Retired Elementary Teacher and ex-Presbyterian current-Humanist

Answer: 

What I do – is what your instinct is – To let them know you will keep them in your thoughts. 
I’ve never had anyone get mad that I’m not praying for them. As you said, it's comforting for people to know you care and are in solidarity with them. So, I tend to say, I’ll keep you in my thoughts and I hope you get better soon. 

And alternate is - I'm so sorry this is happening. I'm hoping for the best for you.  Or some variation on that. 

Being Human means being in a community. And we need that community, especially when something is wrong. Expressing solidarity is a loving thing to do and it does help people to know that people care about them. 

When I think back on the things that people did that helped me the most, it was the acts of kindness. Knowing people are concerned, helps. It really does. So - express that in language that works for you that is heartfelt. 

And if the person needs more than just good thoughts, see if you can help them in other ways. When I lost my child, the single best thing people did, was bring us food. It's an act of kindness that is really practical. It meant, I didn't have to spend any mental energy on making food. I could just start my healing process. It's a good practical standby and helps make sure the person going through a tough time doesn't have to deal with meal planning in addition to everything else they have going on. Having someone help coordinate it so that they don't end up with a ton of meals all on the same day, but that they are spaced out - is a kindness as well. Also, hint, I make food and then portion it out into individual servings that can be frozen and taken out and microwaved and eaten. Why? Because someone did that for me once and it was helpful for me to have health meals made with love, that I didn't have to worry about spoiling.  (Ok - I'm crying now remembering how helpful and important this was to me). 

My point is - just be a good kind loving person and do your best to be in solidarity with people. All the things you did to show love and solidarity while in a religious group, work for a reason. And we non-religious should do them too. The important thing isn't the words used. It's the love that you share in solidarity.

Good luck. 
 





How to Deal with a Difficult Co-Worker

 I take a humanistic approach to this, meaning I treat them with dignity, compassion, and professionalism.  I may not know why they are being difficult, but I know that me being difficult back at them isn’t going to help them or help me solve our problems. 


It is very easy to write off a difficult co-worker as a problem. But that is a mistake. Not only is it not professional, it also creates tensions where there doesn’t need to be any.

I am often hired by companies who want me to help them deal with a difficult colleague. I usually know who the “difficult” person is before I go in. I almost always fine the person labelled difficult to be a nice person who is trying their best but they are very defensive and often feel like everyone is out to get them. And, honestly,  they aren’t wrong. Their colleagues have decided they are difficult and treat them accordingly.  This creates a vicious cycle that needs to be broken for the good of the individuals and for the organization.

On rare occasions, the difficult person really is difficult and may need to be let go. But until you treat them with dignity, compassion, and professionalism, it is a mistake to jump to that conclusion.

Dignity:

Everyone has dignity. However, we don’t always act with dignity. To make sure that you are not the cause of someone else’s negative behavior, be sure that YOU act with dignity. This doesn’t mean you should act aloof or like you are better than anyone else. It means that you recognize the common humanity you share with your colleagues, and you actively treat other people with dignity. 

I find that when I find myself getting annoyed by a colleague, if I can take a step back away from my annoyance or hurt, and think about them, not as a bad person, but as a well-meaning person, I can often reframe the problem or conflict and re-engage with them. I am honest that whatever happened was not ok with me, but I assume, they meant no harm.  This often turns what could escalate to full on conflict, into a learning and growing experience and helps me and my colleagues actually learn how to work together better. Sharing and acknowledging our common humanity with dignity, helps build trust which in turn makes all future problems, easier to resolve. They know that I am not a threat to them and so, work with me, instead of against me.

Compassion:

People are not always at their best. Everyone you meet is dealing with their own problems. Usually, their problems have nothing to do with you.  If a colleague is not behaving … optimally. Instead of assuming there is something wrong with them, consider thinking of them compassionately.  Maybe something is not wrong with them, but rather, they are dealing with something that is wrong in their life that you know nothing about. 

When you think of your colleagues with compassion, it means you think of them as full human beings with full lives that may include children, sick parents, or other issues outside of the workplace that are impacting their mental health. It helps no one to treat someone who is dealing with difficulties in their life, as if THEY are a problem. When you make space for the fallible human, you take the pressure off of them to be perfect in every way. No one is perfect in every way.  If someone is going through a hard time, the compassionate response is to support them through it. 

I realize this can lead to compassion fatigue. There are people who thrive on problems.  Everything has drama. It is very hard to be sympathetic to someone who constantly has crisis in their lives. But treating them with compassion doesn’t mean you have to indulge every single problem. It means accepting them as who they are and not demanding that they be someone else for you.  Some people truly have a run of bad luck. Others just – like the attention they get from being in constant crisis. Either way, treat them with compassion and don’t add to their problems. 

I had a friend who was constantly in crisis. Whenever she would start talking to me about the latest, I would nod and say, that’s horrible and then I would re-direct to the work that needed to be done.  I was never mean to her. I didn’t demean her for her problems. I treated her with dignity and compassion and that was enough to redirect to actual work.

Professionalism: 

If other people in the workplace have drama going on, there is no rule that says I have to take part in their drama.  I don’t have to take sides. I can simply refocus on the work while treating everyone with dignity and compassion.  If someone is incapable of doing their work, that is their problem. If they are actively or inadvertently preventing work from being done, I document my conversations with them and try to create clarity. I ask what support they need to get their part of it done. And then I work towards helping to make sure they have what they need. 

Being professional is about how you decide to act. If others act unprofessionally, that is about them. You, are professional if you behave professionally. If you think about people you think of as being professional, it’s not that they are famous, or uptight. It means that when a problem occurs, they respond to that problem with dignity and compassion and then start working through the problem treating everyone, including people who are very very very difficult, with dignity and compassion.

An example of dignity, compassion and professionalism in action:

My favorite example of this was a car rental clerk I once watched deal with a man yelling at him. The man had had to rent a car for over a month while his car was – apparently NOT getting fixed by a repair shop. His real anger was at the repair shop, but he was taking his anger out on the car rental clerk.  The rental clerk was filling out the paperwork to renew the car rental while this customer yelled at him that this paperwork was even necessary. 

At no point did the clerk yell back, he just listened and did his work. When he needed the angry man to sign something, he asked him to sign it and allowed the man to continue ranting. He would occasionally tell the man – I’m sorry, but I need you to sign this. I have never witnessed someone under that much stress handle something with that much dignity and compassion before and it was truly inspiring.  When it was all over and it was my turn, I congratulated the clerk on how he handled the situation.  His response?  Well, the guy was going through a tough time and the best thing I could do for him was to help him – re-rent the car he needed. It was as simple as that.  THIS is what professionalism is.  Responding to difficult people with dignity, and compassion and getting the job done despite it all. 

Learn More

Want to learn more - check out the courses I offer at: https://humanistlearning.com/programsoffered/  These programs are available for individuals and for groups. 

Making good choices and accepted other people's choices.

I have a good head on my shoulders. How do I know that?  It's because I survived my first job with my integrity and wellbeing intact. What was my first job? I sold tickets to porno movies for the mob.  I was 16 years old! 

Now, some may argue that working for the mob selling tickets to porno movies when you are underage is itself – a bad decision.  And you wouldn't be entirely wrong. But in my defense, when I took the job, I didn't know that would be the job. Do I make good decisions? Yes, because I obviously handled what turned out to be a crazy job - quite well.  

The theater was a revival movie house. We showed more than porno movies. Just - we also showed slightly more porno movies than is legally allowed before you have to register as a porno theater. We got raided by the cops. A lot. The pornos we showed was almost all art films and cult films. It also turned out the theater was a money laundering operation for a gay mobster but that's another story.  

What I remember the most was how hysterical it was when young men, going to an art film porno on a Sunday morning, suddenly have to purchase a ticket from an obviously underage girl. They universally stammer their way into explaining why the movie they are going to see – wasn’t something they were PLANNING on seeing even though, that's totally what they had planned. They would make an excuse like - my girlfriend is shopping (even though there were no stores near us) and they had time to kill. What movies are available? Oh - it's a porno?  Oh well - might as well see it. Men, just so you know, you don't have to explain to anyone why you are going to a porno movie. The people selling tickets - don't care.  

Despite being surrounded by the mob, prostitutes (both male and female) and people doing drugs, and being head hunted by famous strippers to learn the trade, and being hit on, a lot,  I got through that job – without trying drugs. Without getting raped. Without having sex, without working in a sex club, and without going on any dates with questionable people, though there were a couple I seriously considered, including a concert pianist or the guy who went on to become a famous Oscar winning movie director both of whom – I liked. Despite everything I was exposed to and multiple opportunities to make questionable life choices, I made good decisions for myself.  

As for how this relates to Humanism. If you want to know why I am so completely non-judgmental when I meet people, it’s because – I’ve MET people.  You are almost assuredly pretty boring compared to some of the people I’ve met.   And I do love boring but interesting people so don’t think of that as an insult. If you are boring - I mean that you aren't making choices that create unnecessary drama and hardship for yourself or the people around you. I've seen PLENTY of that. I prefer boring over unnecessary trauma.   

(Note: If you want to learn how to make better decisions to avoid unnecessary drama and trauma - I have a course called Living Made Simpler that explains how I use the Humanist philosophy to making difficult decisions in all aspects of my life - https://humanistlearning.com/livingmadesimpler1/

The main thing I learned though – is that everyone I met, every single person I met, including the ones I knew enough to say no to, were human beings worthy of being treated with dignity. 

The other lesson? The reason I was ok through all of that, was because every single person I met, was ok with me saying NO.  Even the kind of scary, almost assuredly mentally ill guy that would come by on occasion to hit on me  – accepted me saying no to him. 

So – when we talk about rape, understand something important. People who don’t accept "NO" - ARE The problem and they are the exception. Because I’ve hung out with strippers, had extensive conversations with prostitutes brought by their Johns to see violent porno movies and other people of equally – interesting backgrounds.  And at no point, was I ever made to feel like I wasn’t safe or didn’t have control over whether I was ok with things or not. I knew what my boundaries were and kept them and my boundaries were ALWAYS respected.  It was ok for me to say no to people involved with the mob. 

Consent is everything. People who ignore consent are uncommon – fortunately – but they are ABSOLUTELY terrifying and do a tremendous amount of damage to everyone else.  

Making good choices, only works to keep yourself safe, if the people around you – respect your choices.  This is what we should be teaching – as normal. This is what I learned was normal selling tickets to porno movies for the mob. It must be ok for people to say – no thank you. I’m not interested in doing drugs, having sex or working at a strip club or whatever else I said no to.  If you want to do those things – have fun. But I’m not interested.  That was ALWAYS ok which is why it was ok for me to work there. 

Most people - accept consent as foundational to everything. Those that don't - are dangerous.  And when I say, accept consent. As soon as I said no, no one cajoled me or tried to make me change my mind. Never. If I said I wasn't interested, the conversation stopped there. Always.  Anyone who tries to make you change your mind, isn't accepting your no which means, they are dangerous. 



Scrambled Eggs 05 - Jennifer Hancock - Accessibility

Had a fun short conversation with Dan Hill - about accessibility and  - managers who don't aren't. Even though they say they are.

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