As I watched the Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner a few weeks ago, my heart hurt. As he described the torment and insecurity he went through, I began to think of how many others in the workplace feel the same thing every single day. I remember the Bruce Jenner who was an incredible Olympic athlete. He even inspired me to pursue many years as a semi-pro bodybuilder in the 1980’s. To hear that at that time he struggled with an identity that was different from what we saw is astounding to me and as a writer who focuses on faith at work, social media and impacting culture, it inspired me even more to make a difference.
As I watched the responses from people I was appalled and reminded that many people seem to think that just because someone is different, we have a license to shame, ridicule or humiliate. As I study culture, patterns of behavior and the realms of influence social media covers, I am reminded that the free speech of America is not practiced in other countries. We need a revival of grace and wisdom in our land!
For the record, I am a conservative Christian, with very conservative views on gender identity, marriage and the family. I do believe marriage is biblically taught as being between a man and a woman. But this doesn’t mean I have a license to shame, humiliate or ridicule someone who believes or practices the contrary. Listening to Bruce describe how this dual-identity has been a war within for most of his life, it made me want to encourage him of God’s great love for him. I also wanted to apologize on behalf of millions of people who were judging, ridiculing and shaming him.
Prior to watching the Bruce Jenner interview I had watched Madame Secretary, one of my favorite shows. In this episode there was a man who was going to be stoned for being gay in Iran. As the characters were told of the horrific details of the stoning -- they bury you in dirt up to your knees and then hurl at you for hours, stones that have been carefully created for this torture -- I began to weep just thinking about it. The stones are made to bring physical harm and a slow gruesome death, where the liver and spleen explode, the lungs collapse, and the person suffers a horrific two- to four-hour death. I began to see the correlation with stoning and what was happening on social media. Bruce Jenner has been stoning himself emotionally and psychologically for years. He makes a public announcement of his position and intent and he is ‘virtually stoned’ by the comments, judgements and shame of people who disagree with him, and feel threatened by his pronouncements.
It’s obvious that anything done against the norm will typically attract criticism. Heck, I have radical hair and get judged all the time by people. I’ve had people say they couldn’t take me serious in business because of my hair, which is not only ridiculous, but a reflection of the society we live in (and the mirror that person looks into every single day). Does the color of my hair prove my ability to write award-winning sales copy or to create a successful direct-response marketing campaign? Absolutely not! Nor does Mr. Jenner’s sexual orientation prove or disprove his ability to win an Olympic medal, or work as a credible person in the workplace.
I do not believe he was born this way, but it's not my place to tell him how to live. It is my personal conviction that pain, torment and trauma tend to create such horrible pains that make us question our identity. As someone who was sexually abused from the time I was a little girl, and later gang raped in my twenties, it took a lot of healing for me to be confident enough to be pretty, feminine and free to be who God made me to be. When our soul is fractured like that, it’s common to be given to depression, questioning one’s worth and even suicide. I’ve lived through all three.
God has given us all a freewill to believe however we want. While Bruce might be going in a way that to me is contrary to what I believe, it is not my place to judge, criticize and shame him. In reality, it’s a wonderful door for me to accept, love and honor him. This door of love might allow me to help. Or, it might not. That’s where free will comes in. But that is where the real war is, isn’t it?
I recently saw Monica Lewinsky give a TED Talk that really struck a chord with me. Here she was apologizing for her horrific mistake of 20 years ago. When she had that extramarital affair with President Bill Clinton, she subjected herself to judgment, criticism and, sadly, shame. This shame nearly destroyed Monica, as suicidal thoughts came in. I thank God for the people who spoke life to her, restoration and healing. Because of this, she is powerfully making a difference, giving her story and calling others to BE MORE.
This happens in the workplace, not just in the public sphere, which is why it's important for business leaders to recognize and address. We have a crisis in the workplace, when people who are different from us provoke us to rage, judgment and shame. Do we help anyone with these verbal stonings that are leading to suicides, depression and horrific trauma? My answer is a resounding no. Judgement over dress, prayer, tattoos, piercings, sexual preference, gender and more sadly exists at an epidemic proportion in a society that claims to be "tolerant" and changing with the times. How often do people in the workplace suffer quietly, or worse yet, conform to the expectations of others around them to avoid public shame or humiliation?
It’s going to take a movement of people who are willing to stand against this mainstream view of judgment and ridicule, in a way that is peaceful and powerful. Martin Luther King Jr. is our example, and one we can look to as a modern-day abolitionist, striving to see people set free from such judgments. Some might argue that the color of your skin is a moral right to fight for, but sexual orientation that is contrary to what the Bible teaches is not. I’d argue that freedom is for all.
The crisis in our workplace is whether or not we can live and work with people who are different than us. It's not our duty or mission to shove our beliefs, lifestyle or preferences down people's throats. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. It's time for us to change culture, and to be the first ones to love and care about people like Bruce Jenner. If we have an opportunity to share our views with him, that’s an honor. And if we do not, it is our call to honor, love and be the one with the influence of grace.
Faith works, at work!