How to be Charitable in a Cutthroat Work Environment
A reader recently wrote into Mountain Catholic with a tough question:
“How do you remain charitable in a cutthroat work environment, where people are rewarded for their Machiavellian practices?”
Normally, I would say, “Quit.”
But that’s simply not realistic. Giving up your source of income even temporarily is not an option for most people. In many cases, people must continue to face the manipulation, backstabbing, and gossiping that swirls around their place of business.
If you find yourself in this situation, consider adopting these practices to persevere in charity.
Don’t Give into Despair
First take a deep breath and chill. The worst thing you could do is freak out about your situation and give into despair. When we despair we lose hope. Without hope we lose sight of Christ and His promises.
In the midst of the hardships that you endure at work, Christ is there. He is the source of our strength, and will give us the power to persevere and love in the midst of a workplace that breeds hatred, envy, greed, and gossip. So don’t give up.
“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
These words of St. Paul are hard to stomach. Being thankful is hard, especially when your coworkers are moving up the corporate ladder through immoral practices and leaving you in the dust. Giving thanks is probably the last thing you want to do.
But being thankful is the condition of the Christian. Even in the face of great evil, the Christian must carry with her a spirit of thanksgiving, because she shares in the life of Christ.
Now, all of this sounds nice, but anyone who’s tried to follow St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians knows that it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to live a life of thanksgiving. Therefore we must thank God constantly for the things He has given us, including our job. Your job might be terrible, but it’s a job all the same. Being employed and earning a living are always something to be thankful for.
To cultivate a spirit of gratitude, take time throughout the day to give thanks to God for all of the great gifts He has given you. Each day try to come up with ten things that you’re thankful for and talk to the Lord about them during your prayer.
Pray Before Work
In a Machiavellian workplace, where might makes right, prayer is your primary weapon of defense. By praying every day before work you’ll arm yourself with the spiritual armor you need to defend yourself against the temptation to follow in the sinful antics of your coworkers.
Not only that, prayer puts you on the offensive. If you want to be charitable, you must draw your love from the One who is love itself, our Lord Jesus Christ.
By lifting your heart up in prayer before you go to work, you’ll arm yourself with the love and grace of Christ who will remain with you throughout the day. Without Christ we can do nothing. So talk to our Lord before you head into work.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider spending some time in silence, reading the Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, going to Mass, or praying a rosary during your commute. Even spending five minutes in prayer each morning will make a difference. So make sure that your carving out some time each morning to be with our Lord.
Follow the Example of St. John Berchmans
In his brief life, St. John Berchmans distinguished himself as a man of virtue and piety. The young Jesuit was known for never speaking an ill word against another. He refrained from joining in on the gossip that circulated throughout his community, and even defended those who were being verbally assaulted.
But he also had another spiritual practice that can help us to be charitable in a cutthroat work environment – he made a list of the names of people he often associated with and wrote down something praiseworthy about them.
Through this simple task, St. John Berchmans reminded himself to always be charitable to the members of his Jesuit community and the people he saw throughout the day. This practice can be especially helpful when we struggle to be kind and charitable to people we see on a daily basis.
It’s true that some people are difficult to work with and unfortunately, some people take advantage of others and cut corners to get ahead. As Christians, we’re called to be charitable and bear the love of Christ to all people, including the jerks at work. You might have to search hard for something positive to say, but you can always find something. Even if it’s as simple as noticing that the person chews with their mouth closed or holds the door open for people, write it down and thank God for that person and the positive attribute they possess.
Our Lord tells us that we are blessed when we love our enemies and pray for them. This practice puts us in a position to do both.
Don’t Gossip or Tear Other People Down
When everyone around you is gossiping and tearing others down to get ahead, it can be tempting to join in. But gossip can ruin a person’s reputation, and once that’s lost they might never get it back.
Instead of contributing to this type of scandalous talk, you should follow the advice of St. John Vianney:
“If something uncharitable is said in your presence, either speak in favor of the absent, or withdraw, or if possible, stop the conversation.”
Heeding the words of St. John Vianney is not an easy task, but if you follow his advice you will avoid occasions of sin and lift up your coworkers in the process.
The Honest Truth
If your work environment is causing you to sin against charity, and you’re unable to change your behavior, you might need to find a new job. This isn’t ideal or even fair. But at the end of the day, your soul is worth more than all the riches of the world; don’t throw it away for money or prestige. It’s not worth it.
Being charitable in the workplace takes hard work and perseverance. By praying every day before work and following the example of the saints, you can overcome the obstacles you encounter in the workplace and be a vehicle of Christ’s charity.