- Google tells its employees to “bring their whole selves to work.”
- This is a bad idea.
- Our politics don’t have to be part of everything in our lives.
Google has long encouraged employees to “bring their whole selves to work.” It turns out, this is a really stupid idea.
Last year, Google fired James Damore, the engineer whose version of bringing his whole self to work was to write an unsolicited treatise on gender in tech that led to a firestorm within the company. I thought Google was right to fire Damore. But my reasoning for why Damore had to go was different from most of the arguments you heard.
Damore’s job was engineering. He didn’t work in human resources. It wasn’t his job to evaluate the effectiveness or suitability of Google’s diversity initiatives, and his amateurish arguments reflected his lack of expertise.
Foreseeably, his armchair evolutionary psychology and straw man arguments offended a lot of people and led to bitter and distracting arguments in the office. They also undercut the work of Google staffers whose job actually is to oversee those diversity initiatives.
Basically, Damore wasn’t being a good team player, and by attracting negative press and harming employee morale with his unsolicited HR strategy memo, he was costing the company money.
But in Damore’s defence, his employer did tell him to bring his whole self to work – and as The Wall Street Journal reported this week, he was hardly the only Googler bringing politics to work.
According to the Journal, Google employees are fighting over animal rights (and whether PETA’s animal-rights arguments are racist), over whether Google is sufficiently sex-positive, and over whether they should be allowed to bring guns to work. The Damore incident led to bitter arguments on internal company message boards, and then doxxing of complaining employees on alt-right websites.
Don’t these people have work to do? Maybe they’d be able to better focus on their jobs if they left more of themselves at home.
Political disputes are increasingly bitter, distracting, and ever-present
We’re dealing with two incompatible impulses in society today.
One is an increased sense that political views are central to personal morality – if you have the wrong ideas like Damore, then you’re a bad person, or at least a person one should not have to interact with. (One of the knock-on controversies after Damore’s memo was Google disciplining an employee for saying on an internal message board he couldn’t work with people who agree with Damore.)
The second impulse is that, because politics is so important, it must be discussed everywhere. And because everything is at least somewhat political in some way, we must interrogate the politics of everything so we can fix the structural injustices that exist in society everywhere.
Combine the two impulses, and it becomes impossible for people with divergent values and ideas to put those aside and do business together. We can’t stand each other, and we have to spend all our time talking about why.
A better philosophy: Leave much of yourself at home
Instead of interrogating the politics of everything, we should turn in the opposite direction: Realise we’re always going to be a society with differences of values, and find ways to bracket those values disagreements where we can.
We need to revive the lost art of agreeing to disagree. (This is maybe the one thing Kanye West has gotten right in the last two weeks: the immense consternation at his choice to express a bunch of dumb ideas does reflect a wrongheaded idea that we, the public, are entitled to have Kanye be sensible.)
At work, agreeing to disagree should be especially easy, because we can just agree not to talk about a lot of the not-especially-work-related matters that divide us.
If you worry that agreeing to disagree will mean you’ll have to work with people who secretly hold values you think are bad, I’m sorry to say: Yes, it does mean exactly that, as has been the case since the dawn of time.
While Damore doesn’t have to work at Google, he does have to work somewhere, and so do tens of millions of other people in the workforce who share his broad political outlook. Much as they may wish otherwise, liberals are not going to be able to reeducate the entire workforce into having the right, woke ideas, and banish those who resist.
As long as we have a diversity of viewpoints in our society, you’re going to have to find a way to share with people whose values differ fundamentally from yours.
It starts with talking less and smiling more.
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