Should CEOs keep their religious views for themselves? That’s what the headline in an email asks me. It directs to a Forbes interview with Bill Marriott. Marriott is a Mormon. He also runs a hotel chain, as you probably know. His views are interesting. However, let’s take the question a bit further. Can you tweet about your religious views? Your political views? Your sexual life? What you believe are your rights? Do you link to political content on Facebook? Get religious or political in debates?
Let me start by quoting Marriott, who speaks about his approach in the interview: “Marriott has both a deep faith and a deep understanding of his responsibility as a leader. Many of his shareholders, customers, and employees don’t belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their values matter, too.”
Remember that last part: their values matter too.
Personal convictions and (personal) branding
Here is probably the simplest moral ‘code’ you will ever read: “try actualizing your true self, don’t prohibit – and even help – others to do the same, refrain from stealing the personal space of fellow beings or to hurt them in the process of your development; also defend them from others trying to hurt them as much as you can”. It’s my code, a simple one, isn’t it? I am simple I guess.
When do you hurt someone? It depends. You can’t hurt me when speaking about religion or politics. You can hurt others when doubting the very existence of a supreme being though. Should you refrain from debating openly about something when it hurts someone in this sense? And what about cultural differences? Where I live, few people will judge you because you say you do not “believe”. In the US, religion is everywhere, even on the dollar bills. You will get more “trouble” when openly declaring atheistic principles or specific political convictions in some parts of the world.
Many of us work in or for businesses. What we say or do impacts their reputation. There are guidelines. “You can’t talk about your personal beliefs” – for the ‘greater good’ – is often one these guidelines.
There is a reason why few people I know on Facebook or Twitter mention politics or religion. Many have been trained not to do so, again depending upon where they live, work, etc. Some simply prefer to shield their private beliefs since they don’t see the value – or do see the potential danger – of making them public. Others (remember that I’m in the business of marketing and perception or, worse, sometimes even deception, does play a role now and then) are very cautious. They want to protect the reputation they want to build and work hard to create the perception they like people to have about them. In case you didn’t know: there is quite some ‘hot air’ in my line of work. For the latter, personal convictions in ‘sensitive’ domains are – ironically enough – often seen as the enemies of precious so-called personal branding. Finally, there are obviously people with no convictions at all or with no desire to share them.
Social profiles are merely reflections of parts of our selves and no one is obliged to share his personal views or enter into debates with others. And, yes, we do have responsibilities, depending on whom we work and live with and for. However, in the end we choose where we work and how we live.
No one can force anyone to get personal and talk about important topics. At the same time, the social Web is an excellent forum where discussions about religion, politics and other matters can be held if you do not fear a culture of debate. Do you take a risk when doing so? Sometimes. But disagreeing and voicing opinions is not ‘hurting’ anyone. Does it hurt the business you work for? It depends on how the ‘business’ feels about the individual, its’ own role and its’ activities. It also depends on the people ‘running’ it and the culture that reigns in it. You decided whether you like that or not. And, in case of doubt, you can always discuss about it…
Sacrificing the sense of security
However, one thing is for sure: if no one speaks up in this very public space, we call the social Web, we are intellectually and socially dead in it and better leave it, unless we really don’t like debate, think the world is perfect, are on social media for fun or for the money as many marketing folks I know, etc.
When I voice an opinion about politics, gender issues or religion, I always see the same thing happen: people unfollow me, whatever the social network is. It’s the only negative effect I see, if you can even call it negative at all. None of my customers ever forbid me to debate anything, so I consider myself lucky.
In other circumstances, people have other considerations to take into account. However, you still decide how far you are willing to go There is often a sacrifice to make in choosing between the (false) feeling of security and the rules and restrictions that often come with it on one hand and the freedom to speak up on the other, if for one or the other reason you feel the silly need to and/or are one the naives that still believe in the potential power of debate and openness in causing change. Just like I do.
Discussion, debate and deliberation can improve understanding of what those we live with think and feel. If we understand and respect it and come to a mutual understanding since we will always disagree, we can move on. That’s the very essence of a society.
It’s just a matter of respect. I respect what you believe in, though I might not agree and will probably tell you so (and why). I accept the same. Like Marriott in the end says: all values matter. Which doesn’t mean I agree with his.
Could have, would have, should have
How free are you in speaking out about your political or other personal views when stumbling upon debates where you strongly feel the urge to react if you ever feel that urge? Can you allow social media to suck you into arguments about thinks like gun control? Gay marriage? Do you fear the consequences? Are you scared about the potential impact on your future, knowing that what you say today probably is online tomorrow? Do you feel you have a choice in defining that future and thus the consequences of your desire to deliberate? Do you feel secure? Do you feel you live and can make a change? Do you know what the business you work for thinks in that regard? Or doesn’t it matter at all? I’m interested, really.
Here is a personal thing: I have one fear in life, as far as it concerns myself: that the day I have to go, I would look back and have to admit to myself that I’m thinking “if I wanted or had the guts I could have / would have / should have….” Because that’s what happens when you listen to fear and seek excuses to stay in the comfort zone.
Think about it. Or not. It’s a free world. Well, not really. But at least I can keep speaking out when I feel it isn’t once again. Can you? No one should live or think as I do. However, do keep talking when you feel the need to, unless you don’t want. And the rules and policies? They can be discussed. It’s all about respect and finding ways to live and work together, always. If others can’t know what you think, they can’t respect it. If they can’t respect it, they’re probably not worth it.