Tolerating viewpoint diversity is a must to survive the workplace

By Roger S. Peterson ’67

As a Macalester freshman, I knew everything. Well, ok, that changed. By graduation I recognized how much I did not know. Thanks, Mac. We were exposed to many different viewpoints at Mac. Most of Macalester’s political science majors in the 1960s were Republicans. We all listened to each other. We respected each other. And we were all friends.

During the ’60s, I was statewide vice chair of the Y-DFL. I was with Humphrey and others the night he won the vice presidency, that following a summer when one of my bosses was Fritz Mondale. A 19-year old! But even in politics, I had to measure what I said. This was especially so among labor leaders who then were not always well-educated or open to diverse viewpoints.

Then came my two years in the Navy, which I joined to beat the draft. I can count on one hand any political discussions I had. Even during a career in college textbook publishing, I had to hold my tongue occasionally.

Opinions flow at Macalester, especially left of center views. It’s the norm. But you are not obligated to press your views on colleagues once you leave the Macalester bubble. Sharp criticisms of capitalism will prompt a litany of shortcomings of the welfare state. On the job, avoid running your tape on those issues that melt your butter and prompt classmates to vigorously nod their heads. You won’t likely find those vigorously nodding heads in the workplace, even if it’s a non-profit or government agency or foundation or other NGO.

That’s why I and many other Mac alumni worry whether your experience at Macalester is preventing you from being, well, prepared for the world beyond Grand Ave and Snelling Ave. Our concern led us to form the Macalester Alumni of Moderation, the Mac Mods.

Outside academia, with its safe haven of tenure, the world isn’t as perfect as Macalester, especially in employment. You will encounter disagreements at staff meetings, disagreements with bosses, even disagreements with clients. But it isn’t a sound resume builder to suggest they engage in a certain intimate natural function with themselves. Bosses hate discord. Bosses can fire.

For many of you, tact and common sense are a given, and you will do well in the work place, saving your politics for other venues. Nonetheless, I offer some recollections from Mac Mod bosses.

Decades ago I managed an ad agency in San Francisco. We gave a negative, albeit deserved, performance review to a young account executive. She got upset and blurted, “What we need here is a union!” With that I fired her. There’s no tenure—and no unions—in advertising. Read up on the concept of employment at will.

Then there’s that first job interview. Fresh-faced with a diploma and four years of politically correct obsessions, don’t be surprised if the interviewer’s jaw drops if you must declare your preferred gender pronouns. Aside from a politely short interview, I predict the interviewer will recall only your passionate pronouns, not your sidelined verbs—the skills can do for her.

Appropriate dress has surely changed. I tossed out my wingtips long ago…ok, ok, google wingtips and have a good laugh on me. One of the Mac Mods recalled a guy who came to an interview dressed in jeans and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. “I declined to ask him what he was trying to say about me or the job. It didn’t matter. It was his first…and lasting impression,” my source said.

You’ve probably read many articles in the last two years about surviving Thanksgiving dinner with relatives, some of whom voted way differently from you. We’ve all had dinners like that, right. The workplace is like a long-term Thanksgiving dinner, with lots of tart uncles and ‘hopeless’ siblings you no longer recognize.

Nonetheless, something is happening out there you can’t control. Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the micro-aggression movement at liberal arts colleges with all their safe havens and comfort dogs. Two new books spotlight the issue. One by Warren Treadgold is “The University We Need.” The other by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathon Haidt is “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure.” That last word should get your attention. Bosses aren’t likely to hire snowflakes.

I quickly add, however, that dissenters on policy do have an opportunity to fight ‘group think’ consensus and make a name for themselves, as author Charles Nemeth points out in his great book “In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power to Dissent in Life and Business.” But pick your battles carefully.

These books received favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Bosses read the WSJ. So do human resource execs and recruiters. They talk to each other. A lot.

Start your summer after graduation by yanking humility out of the jaws of your personal opinions. Learn to position your contrarian views in quiet, thoughtful ways. It beats being perceived as a polemicist nag.

Wait! You don’t have to wait until graduation. If Macalester ever does invite a moderate or conservative speaker to campus, take your notebook rather than your protest sign. Have you ever listened to David Brooks or read Bret Stephens, both with The New York Times? These are two very thoughtful conservatives, who, I might add, are not Trump fans. But if you close your ears to contrarian viewpoints, you are contradicting the very definition of a liberal arts education: the acquisition of broad knowledge.

I’ve changed my politics since 1967. I refuse to register with either political party. Each is bankrupt. Neither understands a simple human concept: It’s not always right to be right.

We Mac Mods welcome dialogue…the civil dialogue we learned in our long careers.

[email protected]

October 11, 2018

5 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Tolerating viewpoint diversity is a must to survive the workplace”

  1. This letter is precisely what is wrong with dialog between people today. Essentially the thesis is sit down, shut up, and listen to the white, male power establishment. This letter could just as easily been addressed (perhaps should have been) to the Mac Mods. As a mother of a student at Mac, and as an educator, I can sympathize with how difficult it is to watch yourself become obselete and out of date. When we know better we do better. Employment at will for example used to mean we fired a woman forgetting pregnant. We don’t do that anymore because we know that women are just as capable of work as men, pregnancy or not. I pause to wonder if your female employee who wanted a union was paid anywhere near what her male colleagues were for the same job. Unions are formed for that reason especially.

    Of course painting any group with a broad brush is a sure fire way to ensure that you look like a whiner whose time has past. In the 26 years I’ve been teaching I’m afraid I’ve never encountered a snowflake. But I’ve met some truly remarkable students, people who did not grow up in the baby boom and have worked incredibly hard to get where they are.

    The “good old days” referred to here are the ones where the conversations, the culture, the power, was shared exclusively by white men. Of course it was easy to agree or get along. When the only people who are involved are privileged, consensus is a breeze. You’re talking about an era when women and people of color were not part of the conversation. I’m sorry to tell you, we’re in it now.

    Times have changed. If that makes you uncomfortable, it’s time to hug the cactus.

    • Amen! Except I’m not at all sorry to tell him we’re a part of the conversation now. It’s long overdue, and the world will be better for it.

  2. “Then there’s that first job interview. Fresh-faced with a diploma and four years of politically correct obsessions, don’t be surprised if the interviewer’s jaw drops if you must declare your preferred gender pronouns. Aside from a politely short interview, I predict the interviewer will recall only your passionate pronouns, not your sidelined verbs—the skills can do for her.”

    Well, trans people exist, and they want to be respected and to be hired. Those aren’t mutually exclusive. Or is being trans something one should “hold their tongue” about?

    Oddly enough, I’ve managed to get hired (based on my skills– pronouns aren’t such a distraction, it seems), and my boss made sure my coworkers knew my pronouns.

  3. This has little to do with tolerating viewpoint diversity and more with a white baby boomer who has the luxury of being a moderate generalizing a diverse generation of young adults as informal and overly sensitive. “Fresh-faced with a diploma and four years of politically correct obsessions, don’t be surprised if the interviewer’s jaw drops if you must declare your preferred gender pronouns.” These politically correct obsessions speak to our community’s desire to honor the voices and histories of our peers from marginalized groups. I can understand your perspective and how you came to it, which make it unfortunate that you don’t fully understand the group that you’re critiquing. I’m honestly not sure if you mean well or you just want to your alma mater know you don’t approve of its recent graduates. Either way, your tone is flippant and ignores the experiences of marginalized groups that can’t realistically afford to be moderates.

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