Some time ago, during the course of our recent travels, my mother and I had a discussion about a situation that had occurred relating to some ministers that we both know who have been involved in some of the international work of the Church that we both attend. Without discussing the names of the people involved or the specific details of the unfortunate drama that existed between them, the discussion prompted me to think about why this is the case. As someone who has been occasionally involved in international religious matters, I have frequently observed how small of a world that one is working in when it comes to our professional lives, and there is a small group of people that we frequently find ourselves working with. Our interpersonal relationships with such people can have an outsized importance when it comes to our experience in such work.
How then do we address the problem of snakes in the grass? When we work within a small world of people whose efforts are necessary for our own efforts to succeed, our relationship with those people takes on an outsized importance. Where the people that we work with are favorable to us, we can then feel confident that we have friends and allies whose help and counsel we can draw upon when we are dealing with difficulties in our own efforts. Alternatively, we find other people to be neutral to us personally but committed overall to a shared professional goal of success that leads them to work for our well-being because it conforms with their own. When we have mutual well-being in mind, we need not feel positively about other people to be motivated to do things on their behalf, but may simply be motivated by our desire for the well-being of the common goals that we share with others who we neither actively like or dislike.
The problem, of course, arises when we actively dislike other people with whom we are forced to frequently work with as a result of the small world that we are mutually a part of. How do we deal with this active dislike that we may have for others or that others may have for us? We may choose to overlook our active dislike for others, as we more often do in the case of neutral of mixed feelings, because of common goals that are helped by our efforts to aid people whom we may dislike but whom we may also see as decent and honorable people nonetheless, notwithstanding whatever problems we may have in getting along with them. However, we may also choose to try to sabotage people we dislike in the hope of not having to work with such people, and when that happens, we may choose to be either honest or dishonest in the grounds by which we use to attack others. We may even appear to be false friends to people we are secretly undermining.
This is obviously problematic. Most of us, if we are thinking seriously about such matters as our relationships with others and how we are to be judged for our conduct in the institutions that we serve, will not want to be judged as snakes in the grass. We want to think ourselves to be people of decency and honor in our dealings. We will acknowledge that we are not perfect people and will openly acknowledge that other people need not be perfect for us to work successfully along with them. To do otherwise, of course, would be to destroy any ground that we have for working with anyone else. It is hard for us to judge other people well, though, and hard for us even to understand our own mixed and complicated motives in our own behavior and conduct. How do we make sure that we do not act dishonestly and treacherously with others who we may struggle to get along with? It requires a great deal of effort to respect people we may not personally like. It requires a high degree of character that we celebrate the achievements and efforts of those whose personalities and behaviors we may find irksome and irritating. Other people, of course, have the same struggles with regards to us. To the extent that we recognize that the struggles we face in working with others are reciprocal in nature, we can better understand the common struggles that all of us face in institutions, and lead us to behave towards others with greater patience and forbearance. And that would be better for us all.